Hopping rovers send back pictures from asteroid

View of Ryugu

An image from the Hayabusa 2 mission’s Rover-1A shows the surface of the asteroid Ryugu at left. The bright white region is due to sunlight. The image, captured at 11:44 a.m. JST Sept. 22 (7:44 p.m. PT Sept. 21), is blurry because it was taken while the rover was in the middle of a hop over the surface. (JAXA Photo)

Two mini-rovers have sent their first pictures back from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, a day after they were dropped off by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft.

The pictures are blurry because they were taken while the rovers were falling and hopping around the half-mile-wide asteroid, more than 180 million miles from Earth.

As fuzzy as they are, the photos represent a huge victory for the $150 million Hayabusa 2 mission, which was launched nearly four years ago to get an unprecedented look at the surface of an asteroid.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency first tried to put a rover on the surface of an asteroid more than a decade ago, during a mission to a space rock called Itokawa. That part of the mission fizzled, however, when the MINERVA rover carrier missed the mark and sailed off into interplanetary space.

Hayabusa 2, in contrast, dropped its MINERVA-II-1 carrier right on target. The carrier deployed two 7-inch-wide, disk-shaped rovers that touched down on Ryugu’s rock-strewn terrain.

It took a while to get the pictures back to Earth because they had to be uploaded from the rovers to the mothership — and then relayed back to Earth for processing.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, 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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