A pair of Japanese robots have captured stunning photographs of the surface of an asteroid as they landed on it.
The cookie tin-shaped robots successfully reached the Ryugu asteroid yesterday, a day after they were released from the Hayabusa2 probe, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed.
The stunning photos show the craggy surface of the asteroid and were beamed back to Earth by the probe.
The rovers sent back pictures to Earth showing the surface of the asteroid as they landed
Rover-1B’s took this shot of the asteroid’s craggy surface following its three-and-half year journey
The rovers are being used by Japan’s space agency to search for clues of the origins of the solar system.
The rover mission is the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface, according to the agency.
‘Each of the rovers is operating normally and has started surveying Ryugu’s surface,’ JAXA said in a statement.
Taking advantage of the asteroid’s low gravity, the rovers will jump around on the surface.
They will soar as high as 15 metres (49 feet) and stay in the air for as long as 15 minutes – in order to survey the asteroid’s physical features.
‘I am so proud that we have established a new method of space exploration for small celestial bodies,’ said JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda.
The agency tried but failed in 2005 to land a rover on another asteroid in a similar mission.
Hayabusa2 will next month deploy an ‘impactor’ that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object to blast a small crater into the surface.
From this crater, the probe will collect ‘fresh’ materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation.
The space agency hopes this will provide answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.
The misty area at the top of the photo is caused due to the reflection of sunlight
This photo was captured by Rover-1A immediately after it separated from the spacecraft. Hayabusa2 is seen at the top and Ryugu’s surface is below. The image is blurred because the rover is spinning
Researchers and employees at the control room in Sagamihara which is managing the Hayabusa2 mission
The exploring rovers are collecting mineral samples that may shed light on the origin of the solar system. The rovers are using the low gravity environment to hop on the asteroid’s surface
The dice-shaped Ryugu asteroid seen from an observation position some 12 miles above it
The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.
Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa – Japanese for falcon.
That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed as a scientific triumph.
The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.
WHY IS JAXA STUDYING THE ASTEROID RYUGU?
Jaxa’s Hayabusa Two probe is on a mission to study the ancient asteroid Ryugu in a bid to help scientists better understand the origins of the universe.
The probe launched in December 2014 and is expected to arrive at the dice-shaped space rock on June 27, 2018.
Once there Hayabusa Two will study soil and rock samples using several pieces of equipment.
Hayabusa Two (artist’s impression) carries a number of experiments including four surface rovers and an explosive device designed to gouge out ‘fresh’ rock samples
The probe is loaded with four surface landers, an array of cameras and even an explosive device that will dig out subsurface rock samples.
Ryugu, a Type C asteroid, contains traces of water and organic material and it is hoped that analysing this material will reveal what the early conditions were like at the time the solar system formed around 4,6 billion years ago.
Hayabusa Two is expected to return to Earth in late 2020 carrying samples for further analysis.