Japan successfully ‘bombs’ asteroid in search for origin of life

5 Apr 2019

Illustration of Hayabusa 2 touching down on Ryugu. Image: Akihiro Ikeshita

In a bid to find clues for the origin of life on Earth, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe successfully detonated an explosive on an asteroid’s surface.

The next era in space exploration is now truly upon us. A few short years after the European Space Agency’s Philae lander touched down on the surface of Comet 67p, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced some explosive news.

According to The Guardian, Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe has returned near the surface of the asteroid Ryugu where it has now ‘bombed’ it for the benefit of science.

The probe successfully released a device called a ‘small carry-on impact’ 500 metres above the asteroid.

The cone-shaped device – fitted with a copper explosive the size of a baseball – was programmed to detonate 40 minutes after release, creating a small crater and giving Hayabusa 2 enough time to escape the blast. The resulting crater released a wealth of scientific material.

For those of us back here on Earth, the probe will also soon return photos and video of the explosion itself – however, it remains to be seen when exactly they will be beamed back. Once returned, JAXA scientists will be able to determine if the mission was a total success.

Hayabusa 2’s next mission will be to return to the detonation site once the dust has settled. Then, it will deploy a collector to pick up samples of the asteroid and, unlike previous missions to comets and asteroids, will return samples to Earth in December 2020.

At the time of writing, Hayabusa 2’s Twitter account has confirmed that the craft is returning to its ‘home position’ of 20km away from the asteroid and that its status is normal for now.

If all goes according to plan, scientists will have access to one of the greatest samples possible in science, including organic material and water from the birth of the solar system 4.6bn years ago.

Last September, Hayabusa 2 safely landed two rovers on the surface of Ryugu and subsequently released some stunning video footage from its surface. Comprising 15 frames, the footage was captured on 23 September 2018, revealing what it might be like to stand on the surface of an asteroid.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic