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.