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Hayabusa2 probe makes crater on asteroid in historic first

JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda presents an image showing a successful experiment to make a crater on the asteroid Ryugu, on April 5, 2019, in Chuo Ward in the city of Sagamihara in the eastern Japan Prefecture of Kanagawa. (Mainichi/Etsuko Nagayama)

SAGAMIHARA, Kanagawa -- The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced on April 5 that its Hayabusa2 asteroid probe had successfully made a crater on the asteroid Ryugu for the first time in history.

The crater was formed by firing a copper slug into the asteroid's surface. The experiment began on the morning of April 5, Japanese time, and images of the event captured by a detachable camera were later relayed back over the some 300 million kilometers to Earth. The images showed debris flying out -- apparently from rocks breaking up, officials said.

The successful experiment comes on the heels of Hayabusa2's landing on Ryugu in February. The probe is believed to have collected material from the asteroid's surface during the landing.

At about 11 a.m. on April 5, the impactor used to make the crater separated from the probe, followed by the detachable "DCAM3" camera. The probe them moved away to avoid getting hit by debris. About 40 minutes after separation, the impactor detonated via a timer, shooting the softball-sized copper slug into the asteroid.

After separating from the probe, the detachable camera captured images of the impact at the rate of one frame per second, while floating in space about 1 kilometer away from the asteroid. Those involved in the experiment had expected it to be difficult for the camera to capture the moment of the copper slug hitting the asteroid's surface because they could not adjust the camera's direction or the timing of the shots after separation.

The cylinder-shaped DCAM3, approximately 8 centimeters in diameter and height, includes both an analog camera optimized to send data, and a high-resolution digital camera.

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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