It's a great day for space: pitches, tests, orbits, and now a distant probe is going to shoot an asteroid with his space weapon and create a new crater to play. It is Hayabusa 2, the ambitious and hitherto successful mission of returning samples from Japan to an object called Ryugu.
Launched in 2014, Hayabusa 2 has been in the Ryugu region for several months, carrying out a series of investigations. It has four small landing modules on board, two of which fell late last year, and which have been jumping happily around the asteroid.
In February, the ship itself landed on the surface, shaking the dust considerably, but nothing like what will happen when a large old bullet is fired at the surface at 4,400 mph using the Small Transport Impactor. Here is a test of the firing configuration on a substrate similar to Ryugu in a laboratory here on Earth:
Now imagine what happens to an asteroid with very little gravity: dust and spots will fly everywhere. In fact, the robots on the surface have been removed far from the impact site so that the debris can not be seen.
Then, in a few weeks, to be precise, the landing modules and the Hayabusa 2 itself will investigate the new crater and the layers of dust and rock that have been exposed. After collecting some samples, the ship will return home later this year.
This "crater generation" operation will take place later tonight, and the images will arrive very shortly thereafter. The team has already published many wonderful images of Ryugu (as well as some of the best art for children). In fact, it should be able to follow more or less in real time then, starting at 6 PM Pacific Time:
And if you are curious to know how the ship is performing at any time, for example at this time, you can always register in the Haya2NOW web application, which provides all the relevant details as soon as they are received. How convenient!