Japan probe blasts asteroid, seeks clues to life’s origins

first_imgTokyo: A Japanese probe on Friday launched an explosive device at an asteroid, aiming to blast a crater in the surface and scoop up material that could shed light on how the solar system evolved. The explosive mission is the riskiest yet attempted by the Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa2 probe that aims to reveal more about the origins of life on Earth. Hayabusa2 successfully released the so-called “small carry-on impactor” – a cone-shaped device capped with a copper bottom – as scheduled, as the probe hovered just 500 metres (1,650 feet) above the asteroid Ryugu. Also Read – Saudi Crown Prince ‘snubbed’ Pak PM, recalled jet from USThe impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling the copper bottom towards Ryugu, where it should gouge a crater into the surface of the asteroid that spins 300 million kilometres from Earth. Hayabusa2 moved smartly away from the area to avoid being damaged by debris from the explosion or colliding with Ryugu while also releasing a camera to capture images of the event. Images from a different camera at the bottom of the probe showed the impactor was released at the right position and the right angle. Also Read – Record number of 35 candidates in fray for SL Presidential pollsControl Mission could not immediately confirm the detonation but assumes “the impactor certainly reached the surface,” said Takashi Kubota, engineering researcher at the Japanese space agency (JAXA). Kubota said the probe’s use of explosives and its “acrobatic” evasive manoeuvres were “unprecedented” and he hoped the mission would give scientists a rare peek inside an asteroid. Although the detonation was too small to move Ryugu off-orbit, JAXA scientist Makoto Yoshikawa said the ability to operate a probe to this level of precision marked “an important achievement in planetary defence” if Earth were threatened by an asteroid. It will take two weeks for the probe itself to return to its “home position” near Ryugu after the detonation and impact. The crater could be as large as 10 metres in diameter if the surface is sandy, or three metres across if it is rocky, according to JAXA scientists. NASA’s Deep Impact project succeeded in creating an artificial crater on a comet in 2005, but only for observation purposes. The aim of blasting the crater on Ryugu is to throw up “fresh” material from under the asteroid’s surface that could shed light on the early stages of the solar system. The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born. In February, Hayabusa2 touched down briefly on Ryugu and fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection, before blasting back to its holding position.last_img

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