The Japanese space probe Hayabusa-2 has been sending back stunning photographs from the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, and they’re at once stunning and sort of terrifying.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, Japan’s space agency JAXA launched the probe in 2014. In June, the tiny craft rendezvoused with the half-mile wide space rock, officially known as 162173 Ryugu. From orbit, it deployed two rovers, MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B, down to the surface. That happened a few days ago.
Now that the craft has been on the asteroid for a couple of days, it’s sending back some amazing pictures.
The first picture, which you can see below, was taken during the rover’s descent from the mother ship. Though slightly blurred because the spacecraft was spinning at the time, you can see the desolate surface of the rock as the craft makes its approach.
This is a picture from MINERVA-II1. The color photo was captured by Rover-1A on September 21 around 13:08 JST, immediately after separation from the spacecraft. Hayabusa2 is top and Ryugu's surface is below. The image is blurred because the rover is spinning. #asteroidlanding pic.twitter.com/CeeI5ZjgmM— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) September 22, 2018
The next picture shows the desolate surface of the rock even more clearly.
Photo taken by Rover-1B on Sept 21 at ~13:07 JST. It was captured just after separation from the spacecraft. Ryugu's surface is in the lower right. The misty top left region is due to the reflection of sunlight. 1B seems to rotate slowly after separation, minimising image blur. pic.twitter.com/P71gsC9VNI— HAYABUSA2@JAXA (@haya2e_jaxa) September 22, 2018
The next picture left commander Tetsuo Yoshimitsu speechless.
That picture actually requires a little bit of explanation. Unlike other interplanetary rovers, such as Opportunity and Curiosity on Mars, the Hayabusa rovers don’t have wheels. Instead, they move around by taking short hops. And since gravity is so low on the asteroid, a small jump propels the craft 50 feet above the surface – which is why the photograph was indeed taken from just above the surface of the asteroid.
“Although I was disappointed with the blurred image that first came from the rover, it was good to be able to capture this shot as it was recorded by the rover as the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is shown. Moreover, with the image taken during the hop on the asteroid surface, I was able to confirm the effectiveness of this movement mechanism on the small celestial body and see the result of many years of research.”
According to the Japanese Space Agency, Hayabusa is the first spacecraft to successfully deploy a rover onto the surface of an asteroid. While there, the two rovers will collect samples, send home photographs, and conduct scientific analysis while on the surface.
Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda says that he hopes the mission will bring about a new era of space exploration focusing on asteroids.
“I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies.”
Hayabusa-2 will leave Ryugu in December 2019 and land back on Earth in December 2020.