Asteroid Blasted By Explosives From Japanese Spacecraft The device was detonated as part of a mission to better understand the origins of planets.
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Japan (Very Carefully) Drops Plastic Explosives Onto An Asteroid

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Japan (Very Carefully) Drops Plastic Explosives Onto An Asteroid

Japan (Very Carefully) Drops Plastic Explosives Onto An Asteroid

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Early this morning, Japan's space agency dropped a bomb on an asteroid. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports it was done in the name of science.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: The scene in the control room here on Earth was tense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So very few people are sitting down. They're all standing up.

BRUMFIEL: That's the webcast from Japan's space agency. Scientists and engineers were communicating with the spacecraft known as Hayabusa2. It's currently somewhere between Earth and Mars studying a small asteroid. The team watched as it released a copper disc filled with plastic explosives towards the asteroid, then quickly maneuvered to a safe position. Then the explosives fired, sending the disc flying into the asteroid's surface.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And I saw some smiles...

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...And applause.

HAROLD CONNOLLY JR: It went flawlessly. It was perfect.

BRUMFIEL: Harold Connolly Jr. is a researcher Rowan University here in the U.S. who collaborates on Hayabusa2. He says the explosive projectile was basically designed to dig a hole.

CONNOLLY: The purpose of it is to move material from a deeper depth up to the surface.

BRUMFIEL: So it's not an open act of aggression against another planetary body.

CONNOLLY: It absolutely is not (laughter).

BRUMFIEL: Asteroids like this one have been hanging around the solar system for billions of years.

CONNOLLY: These particular asteroids are the precursors to what Earth was made from.

BRUMFIEL: And it's thought they could teach us a lot about the planet's past, even perhaps the origins of life here. After the dust settles, Hayabusa2 will study the crater created by today's explosion. It may even land and take a sample. Eventually it will return samples to Earth where scientists like Connolly can study them to learn more about how these asteroids and our planet formed. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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