Published: Sun, September 30, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

II1 Rovers Send Back Surface Images Of Asteroid Ryugu

II1 Rovers Send Back Surface Images Of Asteroid Ryugu

After a few hours of losing contact with them because of the rotation of the asteroid, Hayabusa2 - the mothership hovering around, finally contacted the two rovers.

Want to see what it would be like to stand on a asteroid? The spacecraft consists of two rovers, Rover-1A and Rover-1B, that both landed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

"I was particularly impressed with the images taken from close range on the asteroid surface". Japan's space agency, JAXA, wrote on their Twitter post containing the video. They show slightly tilted close-ups of the rocky surface from different locations.

As seen in the night sky from Earth, the asteroid - and the small rovers on it - are now moving across the constellation Virgo and positioned between the planets Mercury and Venus.

The clip was shot in 15 frames, captured from 11.34 to 12:48 Australian Eastern Standard Time on September 23.

Initial images were blurry but, a few days later, one of the rovers transmitted relatively clear video from space.

This image was taken just before Rover-1B hopped. Weak gravity on the asteroid makes it hard for the rovers to roll on the surface.

In the coming months, the MINERVA-II rovers will be joined by two more landers. So, the rovers hop instead. According to the JAXA's description, both the rovers were created to fall independently from the drum-shaped container on the spacecraft.

Taking advantage of Ryugu's low gravity, the rovers hop across the surface of the space rock using a motor-powered internal mass that rotates to generate inertia.

JAXA had previously attempted to land a rover on another asteroid in 2005 but failed to do so.

"I can not find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid", project manager Yuichi Tsuda said on the space agency's website.

"Therefore, this hopping mechanism was adopted for moving across the surface of such small celestial bodies". They will compare the rocks to meteorites and to samples collected by other missions, including NASA's OSIRIS-Rex, which is slated to arrive at the asteroid Bennu in 2020.

MINERVA stands for Micro Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid.

Hayabusa2 Project spokesperson Takashi Kubota said the mission was "a dream of many years [which] came true".

"I love how this first image from the lander on the surface of the Ryugu asteroid is so Stanley Kubrickesque", the former commander of the International Space Station tweeted. Ever since the connection was reestablished, the small rovers started sending photos and a video to the mothership Hayabusa2.

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