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Japan probe blasts asteroid, seeking clues to life’s origins

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A Japanese probe on Friday launched an explosive device at an asteroid, aiming to blast a crater in the surface and scoop up material that could shed light on how the solar system evolved.

The explosive mission is the riskiest yet attempted by the Japanese space agency’s Hayabusa2 probe that aims to reveal more about the origins of life on Earth.

Hayabusa2 successfully released as scheduled the so-called “small carry-on impactor” — a cone-shaped device capped with a copper bottom — as the probe hovered just 500 metres (1,650 feet) above the asteroid Ryugu.

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The impactor was programmed to explode 40 minutes later, propelling the copper bottom towards Ryugu, where it should gouge a crater into the surface of the asteroid that spins 300 million kilometres from Earth.

Hayabusa2 moved smartly away from the area to avoid being damaged by debris from the explosion or colliding with Ryugu while also releasing a camera to capture images of the event.

Images from a different camera at the bottom of the probe showed the impactor was released at the right position and angle.

Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, told reporters that the Japanese space agency (JAXA) was able to confirm the impactor hit the surface of the asteroid based on an image captured by the camera released by the probe.

“I think it’s a success. We could not have asked for more,” he said.

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Takashi Kubota, an engineering researcher, said the probe’s use of explosives and its “acrobatic” evasive manoeuvres were “unprecedented” and he hoped the mission would give scientists a rare peek inside an asteroid.

Although the detonation was too small to move Ryugu off-orbit, JAXA scientist Makoto Yoshikawa said the ability to operate a probe to this level of precision marked “an important achievement in planetary defence” if Earth were threatened by an asteroid.

It will take two weeks for the probe itself to return to its “home position” near Ryugu after the detonation and impact.

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The crater could be as large as 10 metres in diameter if the surface is sandy, or three metres across if it is rocky, according to JAXA scientists.

– ‘Dragon Palace’ –

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NASA’s Deep Impact project succeeded in creating an artificial crater on a comet in 2005, but only for observation purposes.

The aim of blasting the crater on Ryugu is to throw up “fresh” material from under the asteroid’s surface that could shed light on the early stages of the solar system.

JAXA/AFP / Handout The aim of blasting the crater on Ryugu is to throw up ‘fresh’ material from under the asteroid’s surface that could shed light on the early stages of the solar system

The asteroid is thought to contain relatively large amounts of organic matter and water from some 4.6 billion years ago when the solar system was born.

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In February, Hayabusa2 touched down briefly on Ryugu and fired a bullet into the surface to puff up dust for collection, before blasting back to its holding position.

The Hayabusa2 mission, with a price tag of around 30 billion yen ($270 million), was launched in December 2014 and is scheduled to return to Earth with its samples in 2020.

Photos of Ryugu — which means “Dragon Palace” in Japanese and refers to a castle at the bottom of the ocean in an ancient Japanese tale — show the asteroid has a rough surface full of boulders.

Hayabusa2 observes the surface of the asteroid with its camera and sensing equipment but has also dispatched two tiny MINERVA-II rover robots as well as the French-German robot MASCOT to help surface observation.

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At about the size of a large fridge, Hayabusa2 is equipped with solar panels and is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for falcon.

That probe returned with dust samples from a smaller, potato-shaped asteroid in 2010, despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.


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Dr. Fauci emotionally recounts his close relationship with the late AIDS activist Larry Kramer

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Dr. Anthony Fauci has burst on to the national stage as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, but his work as a public health official extends back decades. He was a key figure in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and in an interview on PBS NewsHour on Wednesday, he offered a personal and emotional glimpse into that history.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that Larry Kramer, a famed writer and influential AIDS activist, had died at age 84. PBS host Judy Woodroof noted that Fauci and Kramer had been friends.

"In the beginning of the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s, the two of you had a pretty contentious relationship," Woodroof said. "But that changed over time."

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REVEALED: An Obama-era plan to protect medical workers in a pandemic was thwarted under Trump

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President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that his Democratic predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, left him ill-prepared to handle a major health crisis when, in fact, Obama’s administration left behind a comprehensive pandemic game plan that included a 69-page playbook. But Trump’s administration abandoned those Obama-era recommendations. On top of that, National Public Radio’s Brian Mann is reporting that Trump’s administration, in 2017, “stopped work on new federal regulations that would have forced the health care industry to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19.”

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‘Don’t be a sucker’: CNN’s Cuomo begs viewers not to let Trump’s antics distract from the horror of COVID deaths

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On Wednesday's edition of CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," Chris Cuomo warned viewers not to be taken in by President Donald Trump's distraction tactics — and instead focus on the loss of human life from the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's a sad night. I don't know any other way to put it," said Cuomo. "I don't even like that the music's playing, to be honest. It's just three months. We've lost a hundred thousand lives. Do you need band music to tell you it's something urgent?"

"We were told this pandemic would magically disappear without any real trouble. A couple dozen cases," said Cuomo. "Today, did you hear what our president, Donald John Trump, said to calm and reassure our nerves, that we will do everything we can to keep us safe as we reopen and that he will make it his life's focus because that what a president does? Did you hear him say that? Me either. Not a damn word from Trump as this country is just struggling to get our heads and our hearts, let alone our hands around processing such loss so quickly. Suddenly he is now at a loss. Not even a tweet."

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