Pictures confirm Hayabusa2 made a crater in asteroid Ryugu

The Japanese spacecraft can now grab some asteroid dust from below the surface

asteroid Ryugu before and after crater pics

BEFORE AND AFTER  Pictures from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft show the surface of the asteroid Ryugu on March 22 (left) and April 25 (right) Japanese time, before and after the spacecraft blasted a crater (dotted line) into the asteroid’s surface.

JAXA, The Univ. of Tokyo, Kochi Univ., Rikkyo Univ., Nagoya Univ., Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji Univ., The Univ. of Aizu, AIST

Hayabusa2 has successfully blasted a crater into the asteroid Ryugu. On April 25 Japan time, the spacecraft flew over the spot where it had dropped a projectile three weeks earlier and took pictures of the impact (SN Online: 4/5/19).

“We have confirmed that an artificial crater was created,” JAXA, Japan’s space agency, reports based on a comparison of before and after images. “The size and depth of the crater are now under analysis.”

The images showed an area about 20 meters wide had changed after the impact, which was bigger than the team expected. “A lively debate has been initiated in the project,” JAXA  tweeted.

Confirmation took several weeks because, after dropping a two-kilogram copper cylinder, the spacecraft hid out behind the asteroid to avoid getting hit by any flying debris.

The Hayabusa2 team hopes to use the spacecraft to pick up a pinch of asteroid dust from inside the crater and return it to Earth in 2020. The spacecraft gathered some dust from Ryugu’s surface in February (SN Online: 2/22/19). Comparing that dust to samples from inside the crater can help reveal details of Ryugu’s history, such as whether it was ever wet and whether it preserved organic materials (SN: 1/19/19, p. 20).

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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