Japan Landed Space Rovers on an Asteroid, and the First Pictures Are Here

Japan Landed Space Rovers on an Asteroid, and the First Pictures Are Here

Two “mini space rovers” have landed on an asteroid, with pictures being sent back to earth for the first time.

JAXA, Japan’s space agency, landed two rovers atop an asteroid that was 174 million miles (280 million km) from Earth – making history in the process. The team behind the operation faced a 48-hour wait for any information to be fed back to earth from the Minerva-II rovers. Just days ago, confirmation came that the rovers had successfully landed.

In what is the first exploration of an asteroid by a rover, the photos show the “potentially hazardous” near-Earth object entitled 162173 Ryugu. Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager said:

I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid. 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.

A larger rover is planned for October. The team are also planning to explode an impactor close to the asteroid, in a bid to blow a crater into its surface. From there, materials from inside the crater will be collected, which are considered fresh as they are yet to be exposed to wind and radiation.

The images are a huge coup for JAXA, since they tried to launch a similar operation in 2005 but failed to land on the target asteroid.

Lead image credit: Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash.

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Brian Pernicone's picture

Those photos are imperfect, yet incredible.

David Pavlich's picture

Just incredible! My other hobby is astronomy. This is just terrific!!!

Marcus Joyce's picture

It's incredible to think we have people with the vision and understanding to land something so small remotely onto an asteroid in the great vastness of space and transmit pictures back to us.

Pardon my ignorance, but how do they get the thing to stay on something that small? I doubt there's a whole lot of this gravity thing ...

Jeff Morris's picture

Gravity on Ryugu is miniscule, but there is gravity nonetheless. They have to be VERY precise with landing so the rovers don't just go endlessly tumbling around the surface.

The gravity is so slight that they did away with the idea of using wheels for transport because any little bump in the surface would send them floating off. Instead, they use a little "thumper" inside the rover to make it hop slightly. It doesn't take much, and they say each tiny hop can keep the rover in the air for up to 15 minutes and travel about 50 feet across the surface of the asteroid.

BY THE POPE. That is incredible. Even something as small as an steroid in the vastness of space is mind blowingly complex.

Josh Kummerow's picture

Not ignorant at all, and a decent question. First, you are correct, the gravity on the asteroid is small in comparison to even the moon. It's like 1/80,000th of a g. Second, the "rovers" are tiny compared to say Curiosity on Mars. They weigh like 3lbs and are around 7x3 inches. They also use little legs to hop around instead of wheels.

Josh Kummerow's picture

The 2nd image looks like a still from a JJ Abrams movie.