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"Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions."
- Isaac Asimov

Impactor Determines Composition  
  The use of an impactor to smash into a small celestial body; watching the impact can determine the composition of the small body.  

Explorers from a Martian colony encounter what appears to be a small asteroid. How can you tell what it is made of without actually landing and taking samples?

"There it is. Can you get a spectro?"

"No heat." Wendis shook his head. "I'll have to warm it up with a tracer."

Fire streaked in a thin line from the muzzle of a cannon-like tube mounted beneath the viewing instruments and a tiny, rocket-powered projectile, drove towards the mysterious bulk. It hit, exploding into a cloud of incandescent vapour, and Wendis stared thoughtfully at the brilliant lines on the spectroscope screen.

"... the spectro shows traces of iron, some copper, a little tungsten and a lot of beryllium. Looks unnatural somehow, too much like an alloy."

From The Mechanical Monarch, by E.C. Tubb.
Published by Ace Books in 1958
Additional resources -

As it turns out, it's not an asteroid at all.

The recent Deep Impact program, in which a comet's composition is investigated with the aid of an 850 pound impactor, now seems like a modern incarnation of an old idea.

Compare to the Spectro-Flash Analysis from Salvage in Space (1933) by Jack Williamson.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Mechanical Monarch
  More Ideas and Technology by E.C. Tubb
  Tech news articles related to The Mechanical Monarch
  Tech news articles related to works by E.C. Tubb

Impactor Determines Composition-related news articles:
  - MoonLITE 'Mole' Penetrators For Lunar Exploration
  - Hayabusa-2 Asteroid Cannon Strategy From 1950's SF Novel
  - Proposal To Use Lasers To Analyze Asteroids

Articles related to Space Tech
Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup
Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
Astronaut Gets Younger In Space

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