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Jason DavisSeptember 27, 2018

Japan's asteroid hoppers deliver new batch of incredible images

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. 

Scenes from Rover-1B


Scenes from Rover-1B
These images of varying sizes, released by JAXA, show MINERVA-II1 Rover-1B before (bottom left), during (top three), and after (bottom right) a hop on Sept. 23, 2018.
Rover 1-A selfie


Rover 1-A selfie
These two images show MINERVA-II1 Rover-1A on the surface of asteroid Ryugu on Sept. 23, 2018. In the bottom image, the shadow of one of the spacecraft's pins and triangular antenna can be seen. The pins increase friction when hopping and protect the solar cells during landings; a few contain temperature sensors.

JAXA also released a high-resolution image from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft itself, hovering above the shadowed edge of a boulder several meters wide.

Ryugu from 64 meters

JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST

Ryugu from 64 meters
This image of Ryugu was captured from Hayabusa2 during MINERVA-II1 deployment operations from at a height of about 64 meters on September 21, 2018.
Ryugu from 64 meters (context images)

JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST

Ryugu from 64 meters (context images)
These context images show the location of a high-resolution image of Ryugu captured by Hayabusa2 during MINERVA-II1 deployment operations on Sept. 21, 2018.

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.

Rover-1B succeeded in shooting a movie on Ryugu’s surface! The movie has 15 frames captured on September 23, 2018 from 10:34 - 11:48 JST. Enjoy ‘standing’ on the surface of this asteroid! [6/6]

— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) September 27, 2018

Hayabusa2 is also scheduled to release a lander called MASCOT on Wednesday, October 3.

Read more: asteroid 162173 Ryugu, Hayabusa2

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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