Over the weekend we celebrated the exciting news that Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft had successfully landed two rovers on an asteroid – the first in history.
And those two little rovers, called Rover-1A and 1B but together MINERVA-II1, have returned some rather amazing images from their mission at asteroid Ryugu, 280 million kilometers (175 million miles) from Earth.
The first image sent back came from Rover-1A on Friday September 21 at about 1.08pm Japan time. It shows the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which the rovers were deployed from, and the asteroid Ryugu too. It’s a bit blurry because it was taken while the rover was rotating.
“Although I was disappointed with the blurred image that first came from the rover, it was good to be able to capture this shot,” Tetsuo Yoshimitsu, a member of the Hayabusa-2 team responsible for the MINERVA-II1 rovers, said in a statement.
At almost the same time, the identical Rover-1B rover also captured a shot of Ryugu as it made its way to the surface. This clearly shows rocks on the asteroid and its shape, along with the glow of the Sun as the rover spun around.
The third and final image was returned on Saturday September 22 at 11.44am Japan time. This time we see the asteroid even more clearly, along with a lens flare effect produced by the Sun.
The coolest thing about this image is it was taken when Rover-1A was hopping on the surface. Each rover has a little motor inside, which spins and allows it to jump several meters up at a time on the asteroid. This makes the movable landers, or rovers, the first ever successfully sent to an asteroid.
“I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid,” Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa-2 project manager, said in the statement. “I am proud that Hayabusa-2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies.”
It’s not quite clear what the status of the two rovers is right now though. Only Rover-1A has a confirmed hop so far, and we haven’t yet heard about other images or data sent back to Earth from the rovers via the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft.
Each rover is equipped with a camera and temperature sensors, which will be used to measure the temperature on different parts of the asteroid. They’re the first in four planned landings – a German-built lander called MASCOT will be deployed in early October, while Rover 2 (part of the MINERVA-II mission) will be deployed next year.