Japan is making plans to blast an asteroid with a “space cannon” built specially for that purpose. But the goal isn’t saving Earth from an apocalyptic strike by the 900-meter wide space rock. Instead, scientists hope to gather soil and other debris from the impact to learn about the early days of our solar system.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
(JAXA) recently tested the space cannon, which it hopes to use to blast a hole in the asteroid 1999JU3 in 2018.
The cannon will be aboard the Hayabusa-2 probe, scheduled to be launched in 2014 with the target of rendezvousing with the asteroid, which orbits between Earth and Mars, four years later.
Once there, the plan is for the cannon to shoot an 8-kilogram projectile at the asteroid. Hayabusa-2 will then land on the asteroid, collect samples of debris from the impact, and return the samples to Earth.
"An artificial crater that can be created by the device is expected to be a small one, a few meters in diameter, but ... by acquiring samples from the surface that is exposed by the collision, we can get fresh samples that are less weathered by the space environment or heat," JAXA said in a statement.
Scientists believe 1999JU3 has changed very little since the formation of the solar system.
In 2010, Japan successfully returned samples from the Itokawa asteroid in the original Hayabusa mission.