Japanese probe blasts asteroid

Tokyo: A Japanese probe 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” as scheduled, as the probe hovered just 500m above the asteroid Ryugu.

The impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling it 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.

Control 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.

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. — AFP