Japanese probe Hayabusa2 has succeeded in creating an artificial crater on primitive asteroid Ryugu that altered the surface of the space rock.
On April 5, Hayabusa2 blasted a small carry-on copper projectile impactor on the asteroid at a speed of 4,500 miles per hour. The gravel released from the surface of Ryugu was photographed by the deployable camera, DCAM3. However, images from the camera at that period did not show how Ryugu's surface has been altered by the impact.
The collision generated a burst of debris, prompting Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to hide the lander behind the asteroid and wait for two weeks for the dust to settle in low-gravity environment.
The probe started descending on the asteroid on April 24 at a speed of 0.4 miles per second to initiate low-altitude observation as part of its crater search operation. The Japanese agency finally confirmed the success of the mission and the presence of a surprisingly large crater on the surface of the asteroid that is located more than 180 million miles away from Earth.
"The asteroid's terrain has clearly been altered," said Yuichi Tsuda, an associate professor at JAXA.
Crater Search Operation
"As a result of confirming the observation image of the optical navigational camera of the telescopic mounted in Hayabusa 2, it is determined that the collision device generated a crater," JAXA announced in a statement.
JAXA released two images showing the surface of the asteroid before and after the impact. The first image was taken March 22, while the latest image, captured on April 25, shows a dent on the surface of the asteroid that was a result of the impact. The agency is still analyzing the actual size and depth of the artificial crater.
"The exact size and shape of the artificial crater will be examined in detail in the future, but we can see that terrain of an area about 20m wide has changed. We did not expect such a big alternation so a lively debate has been initiated in the project!" JAXA tweeted.
After observing and capturing images, the spacecraft returned to its home position approximately 12.4 miles above the surface for normal operation. The lander will pick up asteroid debris and dust from inside the artificial crater and return it to Earth by 2020.
Probe On Ryugu
The Hayabusa2 was deployed on Dec. 3, 2014 and arrived on the C-type asteroid on June 27, 2018. Scientists at JAXA are studying the geological history of the asteroid.
Hayabusa2 will leave the Ryugu by the end of 2019 and is scheduled to return to Earth by late 2020.