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Why Japan Dropped an Explosive on Asteroid Ryugu


When science hits a roadblock, it’s as good a time as any to start blowing things up.

Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 has been trying to make a mark on asteroid Ryugu for a whole year now. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has done everything it can, from bombarding it with bouncing probes, shooting a bullet at it, and even biting it, all in the name of science. Just recently, JAXA decided to level up its game. It dropped an explosive device on the surface of Ryugu, managing to create a small crater as a result.

Why are they doing all this, you may ask? Why, for science, of course! Or, more specifically, to study its effects.

“We conducted a lot of experiments, but when we did this for real, I was still very nervous,” Osamu Mori, one of the engineers at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), said in a live broadcast. The team dropped a second device shortly after dropping the explosive. It was a camera-carrier, supposed to take a photo of the result of the experiment. JAXA scientists are hoping to damage the surface just enough in order to study the subsurface layers that will be exposed as a result. These layers will then be gathered by a prob later to send back to Earth.

Hayabusa2 left Earth way back in 2014. It arrived at Ryugu less than a year ago, in June 2018, and is scheduled to return to Earth later this year.

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