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Lander plops down on asteroid for 17-hour survey

MASCOT lander
An artist’s conception shows MASCOT on the surface of asteroid Ryugu. (JAXA Illustration)

A robotic probe the size of a shoebox set itself down on the asteroid Ryugu, more than 180 million miles from Earth, and conducted a 17-hour survey of its rocky surroundings.

The foot-wide, German-built lander is called MASCOT, which stands for Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout. It was ejected from Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe from a height of 51 meters (167 feet) and drifted downward to Ryugu at walking speed.

“It could not have gone better,” Tra-Mi Ho, MASCOT project manager at the DLR Institute of Space Systems, said today in a status update. “From the lander’s telemetry, we were able to see that it separated from the mothercraft and made contact with the asteroid surface approximately 20 minutes later.”

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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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