Japan has accomplished the incredibly difficult feat of successfully landing a robot rover on an asteroid, CNN reports. JAXA, the Japanese space agency, announced they landed two unmanned rovers successfully on an asteroid traveling through space.
“The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data,” a JAXA statement said.
The rovers were separated from a Japanese spacecraft, the Hayabusa2. The asteroid they landed on is known as Ryugu.
“I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan. This is just a real charm of deep space exploration,” said Takashi Kubota, a spokesman for JAXA.
Together, the rovers are known as MINERVA-II1. No word on whether they’re named after the famously inquisitive professor from Harry Potter, but the rovers are equally as dedicated to gathering information. This is the world’s first-ever mobile exploration robot to land safely on an asteroid, and presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study an asteroid up close, while it floats through space.
Scientists have studied asteroids before, of course, but never before have they landed on an asteroid’s surface. It took quite a bit of effort to get the unmanned rovers onto the asteroid, too. First, the Hayabusa2 started orbiting Ryugu from just over 12 miles away. When it got within 100 feet, it sent a photograph of the asteroid’s surface back to the ship and scientists.
Ryugu is about 1 kilometer wide, and shaped like a diamond. Asteroids are believed to contain a lot of water, valuable minerals and organic materials. Studying it will help scientists “clarify interactions between the building blocks of Earth and the evolution of its oceans and life, thereby developing solar system science,” JAXA said in a statement.
Now that the rovers are on the surface of their asteroid, they will be very busy. First, the 7 cameras the rovers are equipped with will take stereo images of the asteroid’s surface. The rovers are also equipped with temperature gauges, a set of gyroscopes, and an accelerometer.
There is a third rover, MASCOT, which will be launched from Hayabusa2 in the beginning of October. It is also planned that a small hole will be blown in the asteroid, and the rover will be placed on the surface. This is so scientists can look at materials under the rock’s surface, that have not been exposed to space yet.
After all the samples are collected, the rovers will depart Ryugu and return to the Earth’s surface in 2020.