It's a big day for space: launches, tests, orbits, and now a remote probe is going to shoot an asteroid with its space gun and make a new crater to play in . It's Hayabusa 2, Japan's ambitious and very successful sample return mission to an object called Ryug.
Launched in 2014, Hayabusa 2 has been in the region of Ryugu for several months, carrying out a series of investigations. It has four small landers on board, two of which it dropped off late last year, and which have been hopping happily around the asteroid.
In February, the craft itself touched down the surface, stirring up the dust significantly, but nothing like what will happen when they fire a big old bullet in the surface at 4,400 mph using the Small Carry-on Impactor. Here's a test of setup firing into a Ryugu-like substrate in a lab here on Earth:
Now imagine that it's happening to an asteroid with very little gravity ̵
Afterwards – in a few weeks, to be exact – the landers and Hayabusa 2 itself will investigate brand new crater and the strata of dust and rock that have been exposed. After the collection of some samples, the craft will return home late this year.
This "crater generation" operation will take place later this evening, and images should arrive very shortly afterwards – the team has already posted a lot of wonderful images from Ryugu ( as well as some great kids' art). In fact, you should be able to follow along more or less in real time below, starting at 6pm Pacific time:
And if you're curious how the spacecraft is doing at any time, for example right now, you can always check in to the Haya2NOW web app, which gives all the relevant details as soon as they are received. How convenient!