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Japan succeeds in creating world's 1st man-made crater on asteroid

This illustration shows the moment when the Hayabusa2 space probe makes a crater on the asteroid Ryugu using explosives. (Illustration courtesy of illustrator Akihiro Ikeshita)
This image taken by a camera detached from the space probe Hayabusa2 shows rocks on the asteroid Ryugu flying up three seconds after an impactor struck the surface. (Image courtesy of JAXA, Kobe University and other institutes)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe has successfully created a man-made crater on an asteroid that altered the body's terrain in a historical first, the country's space agency said Thursday.

Hayabusa2 had shot a projectile at the Ryugu asteroid around 340 million kilometers from Earth as part of the probe's mission to explore the origin of life and the evolution of the solar system.

"The asteroid's terrain has clearly been altered," said Yuichi Tsuda, an associate professor at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Hayabusa2, which began its descent toward the asteroid Wednesday afternoon, captured images of its surface to determine the existence of the crater after it successfully shot a metal projectile at Ryugu on April 5 in an experiment deemed the first of its kind.

According to the JAXA, the probe photographed the area hit by the projectile from a distance of 1.7 km. The agency compared images of the asteroid's surface before and after the shooting of the projectile to determine the presence of a man-made crater.

Hayabusa2 shot a copper "impact head" at Ryugu. The agency confirmed a burst of debris caused by the collision.

Launched in December 2014 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 reached Ryugu last June.

It touched down in February to collect surface samples and found hydrated minerals that will help scientists determine whether asteroids brought water to Earth as hypothesized.

Hayabusa2 is due to return to Earth in 2020, according to JAXA.

Asteroids like Ryugu are often likened to fossils holding the preserved traces of the time when the solar system was born. But the effects of the solar wind have weathered Ryugu's surface, making it necessary to dig deep to collect such materials.

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