Earlier this month, to be exact on April 5, the Hayabusa2 probe, orbiting asteroid Ruygu launched an explosive device in order to create an artificial crater on the surface of the asteroid.
The spacecraft didn’t stick around above the impact site to confirm the results as it moved to the other side of the asteroid to protect itself from potential debris that could damage it.
Now, as things calmed down, and there aren’t potentially dangerous debris flying around, the spacecraft decided to take a peek and see what the impactor did on the surface of the asteroid.
Flying at an altitude of around 1.7 kilometers above the surface, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft used its optical navigation camera (ONC-T) and confirmed the presence of a surprisingly large artificial crater on the asteroid’s surface.
Images verifying the crater’s existence were published by the Hayabusa2 twitter account. The images show the surface of Ryugu before and after the impact.
To the surprise of mission scientists, the spacecraft spied on a crater of around 20 meters in diameter, which is much larger than what scientists expected to get.
[CRA2] April 25 at 13:14 JST. The spacecraft initiated a rising ΔV (thruster injection) as planned. The start of the ascent at the planned speed (about 30cm/s) has been confirmed.
The exact size and shape of the artificial crater will be examined in detail in the future, but – according to mission scientists – it can be seen that the terrain of an area around 20 meters wide has changed, which is much larger than expected.
“The exact size and shape of the formed artificial crater will be examined in detail, but it can be seen that the topography of the area about 20 [meters] wide is changing,” explained JAXA in a tweet.
“It was not assumed that such a big change would occur, so there was a lively debate in the project. It looks like we can expect new advances in planetary science.”
It is “determined that the collision device generated a crater,” JAXA revealed in a press release.
The impactor was programmed to detonate 40 minutes after the separation of the probe, firing a 2-kilogram copper “impact head” in the designated area at a speed of 2 km per second to create the crater.
The probe is expected to land in Ryugu in May to collect materials from the crater.
The Japanese space agency (JAXA) believes that Ryugu’s subsoil contains organic substances and water with remnants of the primitive solar system.
Hayabusa 2 will also study the internal structure of the asteroid observing the surface before and after the collision of the projectile, as well as acquire the necessary data for the science of planetary collision.
The spacecraft returned to an altitude of around 20 kilometers from the surface of the asteroid awaiting new commands.
Launched in December 2014 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, Hayabusa2 arrived in Ryugu last June after traveling 340 million kilometers from Earth.