Watch the Hayabusa Spacecraft Blow Up an Asteroid Tonight

The spacecraft will launch an explosive, create an artificial crater, and collect a sample to bring back to Earth.

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JAXA

Later tonight, a spacecraft over 200 million miles away will make history by —or, part of one, anyway.

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will launch a projectile at the Ryugu asteroid to create an artificial crater. After that, the spacecraft will collect a sample from the exposed region to learn more about the interior of our solar system’s asteroids.

Hayabusa 2 has been orbiting the asteroid Ryugu for about a year, has deployed three bouncing rovers, and collected a whole lot of orbital photos. But the real reason behind Hayabusa's mission is to collect pieces of the asteroid and bring them back to Earth. It’s something that Japan has tried before—with the original Hayabusa spacecraft—but this time the space agency is being much more thorough.

A month ago, Hayabusa performed an incredibly difficult maneuver by very briefly landing on the asteroid’s surface to collect a sample. The spacecraft fired a bullet at the surface just as it was landing in order to kick up enough debris for collection. That mission was a resounding success, and tonight Hayabusa will perform part two.

Part two consists of firing an explosive charge at Ryugu, creating a crater and an even larger cloud of debris. The goal is to expose the asteroid beneath the surface so the Hayabusa can collect some underground samples. Those underground samples will be uncontaminated with other asteroid impacts and millions of years of solar radiation, so they should be able to tell scientists a great deal more about Ryugu’s history.

The explosive device, named the Small Carry-On Impactor, will be deployed by Hayabusa at around 10 pm Eastern Thursday evening. Hayabusa will move to the far side of the asteroid until the detonation happens roughly half an hour later. Some time in the near future, Hayabusa will repeat its sample collection mission, collecting some debris from the center of the impact site.

The entire space demolition will be , so you can watch a space explosion as it happens.

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