Japan's Hayabusa2 asteroid probe has been in orbit around the space rock known as Ryugu for months, and in February it tried its most complicated maneuver so far. The spacecraft fired a projectile on the surface of the asteroid and hooked some samples that it will eventually try to deliver to Earth, but its mission was far from over.
Now, less than two months later, the Japanese space group JAXA has cleaned the probe to try another sampling maneuver, which requires the ship to use an explosive device to launch a projectile on the surface of the rock. The Hayabusa2 handlers on Earth say it looks like the probe and its impactor did their job, and they have a photo as proof.
Collecting a sample of an asteroid is complicated, especially with a space rock covered in debris like Ryugu. To make things a little easier, JAXA designed the probe with instruments called "Small Transport Impactors" (SCI).
Impactors work like shotguns, with the spacecraft freeing the impactor in space above Ryugu's surface and then retreating to a safe distance. Then, the impactor fires an explosive charge, fires a bullet-shaped solid projectile into the rock and destroys some of the debris from the surface.
This step is vital for the purpose of the mission of sampling the material of which the asteroid is composed, rather than simply trapping some of the dust from its outer layer. This time, the explosion was captured by the camera and you can clearly see a cloud of dust and debris coming out of what we expect to be a newly formed crater.
Because the debris could damage the spacecraft if it is too close, JAXA will now wait a few weeks for things to calm down before returning to the crater and send Hayabusa2 to its surface for a maneuver to collect touch and walk samples .
Eventually, the spacecraft will return home with these and other samples that could help scientists better understand how asteroids are formed and where they originate.
Image source: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST