Humanity has passed a small, but highly symbolic, milestone: the world just made its first ever crater off the planet.
For billions of years Earth has been subjected to a bombardment by big rocks from outer space – meteorites and asteroids that, by turn, arguably brought water to the infant planet, perhaps delivered life itself to its surface, caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and, latterly, raised a ruckus in Siberia.
Without these frequent impacts, Earth would be a very different, and probably much less interesting, sort of place, but one fact remains. The traffic has all been one-way.
Until now. With justifiable a degree of pride, a few days ago, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported that the Small Carry-on Impactor onboard its asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, currently resident on the space rock known as Ryugu, had successfully started operations.
The agency was able to deduce that fact through some startling visual evidence: the creation of a new crater. It’s just a tiny indentation on a tiny rock orbiting in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not the point.
After billions of years of rolling with the punches, Earth just landed one in reply.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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