Robots send new images, first footage from asteroid’s surface

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Japanese unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 released two small Minerva-II-1 rovers on the asteroid Ryugu on September 21.

Earlier this week, Japan's space agency, JAXA, stunned the world with confirmation that it had safely landed two rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu, doing what the European Space Agency's Rosetta had failed to do on Comet 67p. Given the asteroid's rough terrain, it would be pretty hard for them to navigate with wheels and crawlers like traditional landers do.

One of the pictures shows a high-resolution view of Ryugu's surface from above, highlighted by a big boulder's sharp shadow.

The rovers, which are referred to as Rover-1A and Rover-1B, have been photographing and exploring Ryugu; it took the Hayabasa2 three-and-a-half years to reach Ryugu.

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"Gravity on the surface of Ryugu is very weak, so a rover propelled by normal wheels or crawlers would float upwards as soon as it started to move", JAXA scientists explained.

We've seen plenty of photos taken from the surface of places other than Earth.

The imagery - the first taken from rovers from an asteroid - shows a rocky landscape against the backdrop of space.

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".

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The major highlight of the Hayabusa 2 mission will come in October, when the tiny probe will attempt to collect a sample of surface material and return it to the Earth in 2020. It's an incredibly cool image, but it's just the first of what JAXA hopes will be lots of snapshots of the asteroid, called Ryugu.

The robots will capture colour images of the asteroid and measure temperatures.

Asteroids like Ryugu, which orbits between Mars and Earth, are hot research commodities.

"I love how this first image from the lander on the surface of the Ryugu asteroid is so Stanley Kubrickesque", the former commander of the International Space Station tweeted.

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