Japan’s ‘hopping rovers’ successfully land & send first images from Ryugu asteroid (PHOTOS)

A pair of tiny JAXA robots, released by the Hayabusa2 probe, have successfully landed on the Ryugu asteroid and began transmitting images from the surface of the “potentially hazardous” object four years after the mission launch.

The first images from the astronomical object flying at some 300 million kilometers from the Earth were received by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) immediately after the MINERVA-II1 rovers touched down on the asteroid on Friday.

The first image was taken after the separation of the two cylinder-shaped explorers from the Hayabusa2 space probe. Snapped while the rover was rotating, the blurred image shows Hayabusa2 at the top of the screen with the surface of Ryugu depicted at the bottom.

The second image received on Earth was captured by Rover-1B and shows a much clearer definition of the surface of Ryugu in the lower right corner, with sunlight reflection visible on the top left. The third image released by JAXA was snapped by Rover-1A as it hopped on the surface of its target, offering yet another glimpse of the mysterious object.

“MINERVA-II1 is the world’s first rover (mobile exploration robot) to land on the surface of an asteroid,” JAXA said. “This is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid surface.”

Measuring just 18-by-7cms and weighing about one kilo, MINERVA-II1 rovers will take advantage of Ryugu’s low gravity to hop about the surface of the asteroid, which is approximately one kilometer in diameter. The robots will take photos and temperature readings of Ryugu before Hayabusa2 space probe lands on the asteroid’s surface in 2019.

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Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and made its rendezvous with Ryugu in June this year. Once the probe completes taking samples from the asteroid, it will head back to Earth in late 2020.

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