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Japanese spacecraft preparing to blast asteroid with a gun

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. T ...