Skip to main content

Science In search of origins of Earth, Japan sends space explorer to blow crater in asteroid

Japan's H-IIA rocket lifts off from the launch pad of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Tanegashima Space Center at Takegashima island in Kagaoshima prefecture, on Japan's southern island of Kyushu on December 3, 2014.

JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images

A Japanese space explorer took off Wednesday on a six-year journey to blow a crater in a remote asteroid and bring back rock samples in hopes of gathering clues to the origin of Earth.

The explorer, named Hayabusa2, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018, spend about 18 months studying it and return in late 2020.

A small device will separate from the explorer and shoot a projectile to blast open a crater a few meters (several feet) in diameter. The explorer, which will hide behind the asteroid during the blast, will then try to collect material from inside the crater.

Story continues below advertisement

Asteroids can provide evidence not available on earth about the birth of the solar system and its evolution. JAXA, Japan's space agency, said the research could help explain the origin of seawater and how the planet earth was formed.

Hayabusa2 will attempt to expand on the work of Hayabusa, a previous explorer that returned in 2010 after collecting material from the surface of another asteroid. By reaching inside an asteroid this time, the new explorer may recover material that is not as weathered by the space environment and heat.

The earlier mission was plagued by mechanical failures and other problems. JAXA hopes improvements since then will make this trip smoother.

"The mission was completed one way or another, but we stumbled along the way," said Akitaka Kishi from JAXA's lunar and planetary exploration program. "To travel there and bring back something is extremely difficult."

Hayabusa2, which was launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, is a rectangular unit with two sets of solar panels sticking out from its sides.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter