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.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Aerospace and science editor for GeekWire, creator of Cosmic Log, 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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