Japan's space agency releases first images of asteroid surface

Pablo Tucker
September 28, 2018

Called Rover 1A and Rover 1B and weighing a kilogram each, they resemble round biscuit tins and have since beamed back high-resolution images from the ragged Ryugu surface, said the space agency.

A still from a 15-frame movie captured by one of the MINERVA-II1 rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu last week.

While it's unlikely to win an Oscar, a short movie shot on the surface of a near-Earth asteroid is a major scientific milestone.

A computer graphic image provided by Japan's space agency shows two drum-shaped and solar-powered rovers on an asteroid. Given the asteroid's rough terrain, it would be pretty hard for them to navigate with wheels and crawlers like traditional landers do.

The rovers were blasted into space aboard the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, successfully landing on Ryugu on September 21.

The deployed rovers are placed into a odd world where the surface gravity on Ryugu is only 1/80,000th the gravity of the Earth.

If that wasn't awe-inspiring enough, Jaxa has just released not only more images, but even a small video from Ryugu's surface, and all their footage is mind-meltingly wonderful.

"I can not find words to express how happy I am", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said in a statement after the rovers' safe arrival was confirmed.

"I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies". Now that they're operational, the two will spend their time investigating Ryugu's surface for clues about its formation, evolution and ultimately the state of our early solar system.

As they image the asteroid, the probes will also use finely tuned sensors to record surface temperatures at each destination. This will help the spacecraft collect fresh samples of materials embedded within the asteroid's surface. If all goes well, Hayabusa 2 will head back toward Earth and drop off its precious samples of asteroid soil in late 2020.

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