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A Japanese spacecraft about 186 million miles from Earth dropped a can of explosives on an asteroid last night, excavating a crater on the rough surface. Eventually, the spacecraft will inspect the new crater, and it may even grab a sample from it, helping scientists learn more about the asteroid’s interior.
The prospecting vehicle is Hayabusa2, a spacecraft operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Launched in 2014, Hayabusa2 traveled to a near-Earth asteroid named Ryugu, and it has been hanging out around the object since last year. The spacecraft’s mission is straightforward: grab samples of material from Ryugu, and bring them back to Earth for further study. But the spacecraft is using a few unique methods to reach its goal, and it has dropped some robots on the asteroid along the way.
In September, Ryugu’s first big maneuver entailed deploying a pair of cylindrical robotic rovers on the asteroid that bounced around the rock’s surface to collect data and images of Ryugu. A couple of weeks later, it dropped a robotic box on Ryugu, which also studied the asteroid’s terrain. Finally, in February, Hayabusa2 got what it came for: it slowly lowered itself toward the asteroid’s surface and shot