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Science

First-ever Footage from the Surface of an Asteroid

On September 21, a Japanese spacecraft released two robot rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. The pair of robotic vehicles, Rover-1A and Rover-1B, successfully landed on the asteroid a day later and has started sending back high-resolution images and data from its surface. The data also include a spectacular footage, which represents the world’s first movie shot from the surface of an asteroid. The video was captured on September 23 and shows stunning views of Ryugu’s rocky uneven terrain.

Ryugu is a 1 km-diameter primitive asteroid that lies 300 million kilometers from Earth. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived at this asteroid on June 27 after traveling three-and a half year in space. The probe will explore the asteroid over the coming 18 months. The analysis of this primitive space rock could provide more insight into the origins of the solar system.

Hayabusa2 is designed to study the surface of the asteroid by dropping tiny robots. MINERVA-II1 consists of two robot rovers that are now surveying the asteroid’s physical features. Other rover MINERVA-II2 is scheduled to land on asteroid Ryugu next year. MINERVA-II1 is the world’s first rover to reach an asteroid and also the first to capture images of an asteroid surface.

“I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid,” said Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 Project Project Manager, “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.”

Japan’s space probe will also collect samples from the asteroid and bring them back to Earth in December 2020. To collect samples, Hayabusa2 will use an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid and produce a crater on its surface. Hayabusa2 is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa that returned to Earth in 2010 with dust samples from asteroid Itokawa.

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