This computer graphic image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows two drum-shaped and solar-powered Minerva-II-1 rovers on an asteroid.
The 900m-wide Ryugu asteroid, formally known as 162173, is thought to be a relic from the earliest days of our solar system.
We now have our first major look at the surface of the Ryugu asteroid courtesy of rovers exploring it from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the photos are stunning.
We've sent rovers to explore neighboring planets and moons, but we can now check another near-Earth target off of the list.
Japan has been operating a mission on the surface of an asteroid for a while now.
These rovers don't operate like their counterparts on Mars, though. Ryugu also has a weak gravitational field, so a standard rover would start floating into space as soon as it started moving.
A third rover, the MINERVA-II2 is scheduled to land on Ryugu next year. The probes use rotating motors to make jumps, each lasting some 15 minutes owing to the body's low gravity. The rovers are also equipped with temperature gauges and optical sensors as well as an accelerometer and a set of gyroscopes. Well, if you were not a human but rather a seven-inch-diameter, just under 3-inch-tall, hopping robot?
The images show Ryugu's surface, a landscape filled with rugged rocks - the first one seen in space on such a space object. An up close view of its surface will help researchers figure out the conditions that it formed in, and how much of a cosmic beating it's taken during its evolution.
At the moment, Ryuga launched the robots-Gemini Rover MINERVA continue their activities, their existence on the asteroid is not in danger. But it didn't stop there - more pictures and even a 15-frame short video from the asteroid have been beamed back. Then, in 2019, the mothership will drop another hopping rover, Minerva-II2. Later that month, the original Hayabusa2 craft will descend on Ryugu and do what has never been done before: return a sample to Earth.
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