spaceSpace and Physics

Japan's Asteroid Rovers Have Returned More Amazing Images From The Surface Of Ryugu


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


This image was taken by Rover-1B just before hopping on the surface. JAXA

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Hayabusa-2 rovers have returned more images from the surface of asteroid Ryugu, after their stunning initial landing last weekend.

The two rovers, dubbed Rover-1A and 2B but together MINERVA-II1, were released from the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft onto asteroid Ryugu on Friday, September 21. Each measuring just 18 centimeters (7 inches) across and weighing about 1.1 kilograms (2.4 pounds), they’re designed to “hop” across the surface by spinning a mass inside of them.


Previously we only had confirmation that Rover 1A had successfully hopped, revealed in the first batch of images released on Saturday, September 22. In these latest images, we now also have confirmation that Rover-1B has jumped on the surface.

In one image released from that rover just before a hop (above), we can see an incredible amount of detail on the surface, with the Sun shining down overhead. A sequence of images shows the process of hopping, while another image also shows the surface just after a successful hop.

The sequence of images confirming a successful Rover-1B hop. JAXA

By jumping on the surface, the rovers can use their temperature sensors to measure the temperature in different places. They can also snap images from different locations – the first images ever taken from the surface of an asteroid.

And another Rover-1B image, taken just after hopping. JAXA

Rover-1A also snapped some more images, including capturing the shadow of its antenna on the surface and one of its “pins”. The pins, according to JAXA, are designed to increase friction when hopping and protect the solar cells during each landing. Some also contain the temperature sensors.

One of the images returned by Rover-1A. JAXA
Here we can see Rover-1A's antenna and pin on the surface

There was another treat also released by JAXA, a video taken from the surface by stitching together 15 images from Rover-1B. This shows the Sun moving through the sky as the asteroid rotates at its speed of one revolution every 7 hours and 38 minutes.


While the rovers remain on the surface, Hayabusa-2 is preparing for even more activities at Ryugu. In early October, it will release another lander called MASCOT onto the surface. Later this year, the spacecraft itself will touch down on the surface and attempt to scoop up material.

The spacecraft performed a touchdown rehearsal earlier in September, taking images of potential landing sites. One site called L08 is preferred at the moment, with two backup choices called L07 and M04 also available.

For now, we’ve got some exciting images from two tiny rovers on this distant asteroid 280 million kilometers (175 million miles) from Earth to enjoy. And if that’s not ridiculously awesome, we don’t know what is.


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