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Hayabusa 2 probe drops off rovers at asteroid

Hayabusa 2's shadow
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe takes a picture of the asteroid Ryugu from a distance of about 135 meters (440 feet) with its own shadow seen on the surface. (JAXA Photo)

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe began the climactic phase of its mission overnight by sending out its first two rovers as it hovered less than 200 feet over an half-mile-wide asteroid, more than 180 million miles from Earth.

During the drop-off, the 18-foot-wide spacecraft even took a picture of its own shadow, spread out on the asteroid Ryugu’s rocky surface like a black-and-white copy of the Canadian flag.

The release of Hayabusa 2’s MINERVA-II-1 rovers occurred at 9:06 p.m. PT Sept. 20, mission controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency reported in a tweet. Hayabusa 2 dipped as low as 55 meters (180 feet) for the release, then retreated back from the asteroid.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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