A fresh batch of incredible images from Japan's Hayabusa2 mission have arrived on Earth, revealing asteroid Ryugu's rocky surface in even finer detail.
Last Friday, the Hayabusa2 spacecraft dropped a pair of hopping, drum-shaped rovers onto the surface from a height of about 60 meters. The 18-centimeter-wide probes, collectively called MINERVA-II1, can lift themselves off the surface for several minutes at a time using spinning, internal motors. Both rovers captured images during their descent, and one rover grabbed a picture mid-hop.
Now there are new images. On Thursday, Japan's space agency, JAXA, confirmed both rovers are hopping as designed, and released a treasure trove of pictures from the probes as they tumble around Ryugu. The snapshots show the asteroid's surface as a loose pile of gravel strewn with larger rocks and boulders.
JAXA also released a high-resolution image from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft itself, hovering above the shadowed edge of a boulder several meters wide.
Ryugu's surface will prove challenging for the mission's ultimate goal of collecting a sample for return to Earth in 2020. The latest JAXA press release lists that sample attempt happening in late October, with a rehearsal planned in the middle of the month. A similar touchdown rehearsal in mid-September was cancelled after the spacecraft had trouble detecting reflections from Ryugu's dark surface.
Hayabusa2 is also scheduled to release a lander called MASCOT on Wednesday, October 3.