These History-Making Photos Of Rovers Landing On An Asteroid Are Stunning

Japan successfully lands rovers on asteroid Ryugu

Two landers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have successfully touched down on the Ryugu asteroid after separating from the Hayabusa2 probe in orbit, and have begun transmitting images from the space rock's surface.

On a primitive piece of space rock more than 100 million miles (160 million kilometres) from Earth, two tiny robotic explorers took their first cautious "hops" this weekend - the first movements made by any human-made spacecraft across the surface of an asteroid. This instrument will dig a hole on the asteroid and collect the sample from below Ryugu's surface and bring it to Earth.

"I was so moved to see these small rovers successfully explore an asteroid surface because we could not achieve this at the time of Hayabusa, 13 years ago", explained project mission manager Makoto Yoshikawa. It's an incredibly cool image, but it's just the first of what JAXA hopes will be lots of snapshots of asteroid, called Ryugu.

'Analysis of this information confirmed that at least one of the rovers is moving on the asteroid surface'.

NASA's NEAR-Shoemaker, launched in 1996, closely flew past asteroid Mathilde, coming within 1212 km of the asteroid's surface, next year.

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Once the spacecraft reaches the surface, it will fire a bullet at great speed into Ryugu, with the resulting blasted particles being collected by a catcher.

Next month, the spacecraft Hayabusa2 plans to shoot a two-kilo copper object to blast a small crater on Ryugu's surface. "This is just a real charm of deep space exploration", JAXA spokesperson Takashi Kubota told reporters, according to CNN. Hayabusa2 will then collect samples from the crater, which will later be sent to Earth for laboratory studies.

In late October, Hayabusa2 is set to launch the third rover called MASCOT.

"The Hayabusa 2 will also bring back a capsule with samples", JAXA explained in a news release announcing the asteroid's name, "thus the theme of "bringing back a treasure" is common".

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to leave Ryugu in December 2019 and return to Earth, arriving in December 2020. The asteroid's surface is known to be rougher than expected, as it has several boulders and barely any smooth places.

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