Japan has successfully landed two rovers on the surface of a distant asteroid during the last week. These robots became the first devices from Earth to visit an asteroid.
On September 21, these two rovers had landed on the asteroid named, Ryugu, which is a C-type asteroid residing between Earth and Mars. According to the Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA), these rovers were transported to the asteroid’s surface with help of ‘Hayabusa2’, an unmanned spacecraft.
Asteroids, being the floating rocky objects in the space, are often referred to as minor planets, given their properties of orbiting around the Sun, similar to the planets.
The Hayabusa2, has already arrived near Ryugu during June this year. However, the spacecraft flew in a range of 55 meters of the asteroid. After monitoring the heavenly body for a considerable period, Hayabusa2 released the rovers onto the surface of Ryugu. Once the rovers landed on the asteroid surface, the spacecraft went back to a waiting position that measures about 20 kilometers above Ryugu.
Just a day later, JAXA released some images that the rovers had sent back from the asteroid. One of the images shows the dark stone of asteroid, with a bright sunlight reflecting on the asteroid’s surface.
These rovers are named MINERVA-II 1a and 1b and the size of each resembles a cookie jar. They are programmed to source energy from solar power, which makes it easier to stay on the surface of the asteroid and operate without hassles. Asteroids generally have a low gravity, which restricts the rover from rolling on its wheels. Well, they are programmed to take jumps in order to move around the place. These rovers have the capacity to jump about 15 meters at a time.
The two MINERVAs would continue their mission on the asteroid until late 2019, and then it will return to our planet along with some asteroid samples. Till that time, its duty would be to take pictures of the surface and collect information about the asteroid’s temperature. The Japanese space agency has clearly mentioned that the rovers would keep on jumping from one place to the other as long as their solar equipment last.
JAXA also has plans to launch a larger rover onto Ryugu from Hayabusa2 within the next few months.
But why did Japan choose Asteroids? This is mainly because asteroids are formed about billions of years ago and exploring these particular heavenly bodies would allow scientists to gain more knowledge on the earliest days of our solar system.