It’s a shot in the dark.
A group of Japanese scientists plans to mine an asteroid for mineral samples — by blasting it with a gun.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa 2 probe is expected to touch down on the Ryugu asteroid Thursday evening following a more than four-year expedition to the half-mile-diameter planetoid.
There, the probe will fire a specially designed bullet straight into the surface and then use a vacuum to suck up the resulting debris for study back on Earth.
In tests on Earth, the shot released surface fragments “into the surrounding gravel where they collided like billiards to break up the material,” JAXA scientists noted in a Feb. 14 blog post, saying they expect a similar result on Ryugu.
The probe actually reached the asteroid in June — but scientists pumped the brakes on the landing after learning that the space rock’s surface had more gravel than expected.
“It took time to investigate the safety of the spacecraft during [touchdown],” scientists said.
Researchers plan to livestream the landing.
If all goes well, the samples will be in Earthlings’ hands by 2020.