Japanese scientists have successfully test-fired an asteroid canon here on Earth, giving headway to a mission set to launch in 2018. The goal is to basically shoot the asteroid, named 1999JU3, with a small metal projectile for the purpose of creating a crater and exposing the asteroid’s interior soil. If successful, scientists will then swoop in to take samples for analysis. Asteroid 1999JU3 has been specifically targeted because researchers believe it may harbor signs of how our galaxy began.
The space canon will actually be shuttled into space next year by the Hayabusa-2, a rocket designed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA); its trajectory will eventually put it into the path of 1999JU3 four years later, or so scientists hope, giving the canon a clear shot. In addition to finding evidence for early planet formation, researchers will also be carefully searching for organic materials and signs of water—not unlike what NASA’s Curiosity Rover is doing on Mars.
If JAXA does obtain a sample, the shuttle is expected to return to Earth by 2020, where scientists will then begin studying all that sweet space soil. Researchers are fairly sure 1999JU3 has gone unchanged since our universe formed, so the asteroid should give them some pretty revealing insight as to how everything first began. JAXA previously collected asteroid samples with its first Hayabusa, but the probe was only able to carry back what was found on an asteroid’s surface, which could have been altered while floating through space; this new initiative is diving much deeper.
We’ll still have many years to wait until scientists start shooting up space rocks. But, if successful, the asteroid’s soil could reveal some interesting space secrets. At least that’s the hope. If anything, at least we have a space cannon that has been proven to work—and scientists certainly don’t sound afraid to use it.