Photos from Japanese space rovers show asteroid surface

Pablo Tucker
September 30, 2018

Rover 1A and Rover 1B were dropped by Hayabusa 2, the mothership, 60 meters above the asteroid's surface, and this was a moment of anxiety for all concerned because of the rough terrain on Ryugu. They show slightly tilted close-ups of the rocky surface from different locations.

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

To move around the asteroid, the rovers rely on a hopping mechanism rather than wheels or tracks. Given the asteroid's rough terrain, it would be pretty hard for them to navigate with wheels and crawlers like traditional landers do. The 15-frame video was shot over the course of 1 hour and 14 minutes on September 23.

One of the rovers also captured a video of Ryugu in motion.

As seen in the night sky from Earth, the asteroid - and the small rovers on it - are now moving across the constellation Virgo and positioned between the planets Mercury and Venus.

Hayabusa 2 will stay at Ryugu until late 2019, when it will depart with its collected samples and set course for Earth.

As well as taking images of the asteroid, the landers are created to measure its temperature.

"I can not find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said on the space agency's website. And waiting for the first images that would prove the little rovers were safe was nerve-wracking.

We now have our first major look at the surface of the Ryugu asteroid courtesy of rovers exploring it from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the photos are stunning. However, the first Hayabusa failed to land its hopper, the original MINERVA, on the surface of the asteroid Itokawa more than a decade ago.

"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".

That will enable the spacecraft to make brief touch-and-go landings to collect "fresh" samples of materials that have been protected from millennia of wind and radiation and which may offer clues as to the origins of life on Earth.

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