Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft pictures reveal that asteroid Ryugu is a rocky surface. Japan space agency scientists and engineers are thrilled by the images being sent to Earth by two jumping robotic rovers that they dropped onto an asteroid about 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) away. The sharpest-ever photo of the big asteroid Ryugu shows a complex surface strewn with rocks and rubble. Earlier, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency posted the latest photos on its website.
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The spacecraft captured the image with its Optical Navigation Camera-Telescopic instrument from a height of about 210 feet (64 metres), according to JAXA officials.
“I cannot 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.
It took more than three years for the unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft to reach the vicinity of asteroid Ryugu. The craft successfully dropped a small capsule with two rovers onto its surface. The rovers, each about the size of circular cookie tin, don’t have wheels but jump around the asteroid.
Hayabusa2 is scheduled to drop a German-French lander with four observation devices onto the asteroid next week. It later will attempt to land on the asteroid itself to collect samples to send back to researchers on Earth.
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The various data gathered at Ryugu, and analyses of the returned sample, should help researchers better understand the early solar system and the role that carbon-rich rocks like Ryugu may have played in helping life get started on Earth, mission officials have said.
On October 3, the spacecraft is set to release a German-French lander called MASCOT carrying four observation devices in early October and a bigger rover called Minerva-II-2 next year. Hayabusa2, launched in December 2014, is due to return to Earth in late 2020.