Japan just did something awesome and most of you missed it
October 1, 2018
Two small Japanese robots landed on a distant asteroid last weekend.
The robots took small jumps, making it the first time that any device from our planet has moved on the surface of an asteroid.
The two machines, called rovers, landed on the asteroid Ryugu on September 21. The Japan Space Exploration Agency says they were lowered to the surface by an unmanned spacecraft called the Hayabusa2.
Asteroids are small, rocky objects orbiting around the Sun. They sometimes have been described as minor planets.
The Japanese spacecraft first arrived at Ryugu last June. It flew as close as 55 meters to the asteroid before it released the rovers. Hayabusa2 then rose back up to a waiting position about 20 kilometers above the surface.
The next day, Japan’s space agency, known as JAXA, released some pictures the rovers had sent back from the landing area. One shows the dark stone of Ryugu, with a bright line of sunlight lighting up the asteroid’s surface.
“I cannot find words to express how happy I am,” said JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda in a statement after the robots arrived.
The rovers are named MINERVA-II 1a and 1b. They are about the size of a can used to hold cookies. Their movements are powered by solar energy from the sun. The low gravity levels on the asteroid make rolling difficult, so the rovers move by taking jumps, up to 15 meters at a time.
They will continue moving across the surface, taking pictures and collecting information about temperature. The Japanese space agency says they will keep jumping as long as their solar equipment and power last.
A larger rover and lander will be released onto the surface from Hayabusa2 in the coming months.
You may be wondering why send a spacecraft millions of kilometers away to land on an ancient piece of rock traveling through space? Scientists believe that asteroids may provide information about the earliest days of our solar system, dating back some 4 billion years.
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