Photos from Japanese space rovers show asteroid is ... rocky

Rover 1A Hops on Asteroid Ryugu

Rover 1A Hops on Asteroid Ryugu

A still from a 15-frame movie captured by one of the MINERVA-II1 rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu last week.

In a series of six tweets, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) showed the first images taken by the two rovers - including a 15-frame video - from the surface of Ryugu, a kilometer-wide asteroid that has been visited by the agency's Hayabusa spacecraft.

The two autonomous rovers, unceremoniously named Rover 1A and Rover 1B, were dropped by Hayabusa 2, their mothership, from a distance of 60 meters from the asteroid's surface.

As quoted on the projects website, Yuichi Tsuda, a project manager, was at a loss for words when the rovers' on-asteroid hopping ability was first confirmed on September 22. Its task will be to collect samples and, hopefully, return them back to Earth.

Speaking after the initial rover landings, Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the Hayabusa2 mission, said: "I can not find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid".

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.

The mission marks the world's first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface, according to Jaxa.

Japanese scientists are racing NASA for that achievement, with the U.S. agency's sample retrieval mission due to arrive back on Earth in 2023.

Two long-distance pictures taken by Japan's Hayabusa 2 probe zero in on the scene shown in a close-up picture of asteroid Ryugu. The next stage will see the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander released onto the asteroid's surface. There's the moon of course, a huge archive of images snapped from the surface of Mars and even photos of Venus captured from the surface, but never has a spacecraft delivered a snapshot from the surface of an asteroid.

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