07:05 GMT26 January 2021
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    Two Japanese rovers, deployed by an unmanned spacecraft to a space rock 300 million kilometers away from the Earth last week, have transmitted their first images from the surface of the asteroid - and they are spectacular.

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has published a video clip alongside a number of photos from the surface of Ryugu asteroid, a diamond-shaped space rock nearly 1km in diameter orbiting the Sun between the Earth and Mars.

    The 15-frame video was shot on September 23, two days after two Minerva-II1 (Micro/Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid) rovers separated from the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 and touched down on the asteroid. It shows the Sun passing overhead as seen from the rocky surface of Ryugu.

    The tiny robots don't have wheels — they simply don't need them as rovers on normal wheels or crawlers would float upwards due to Ryugu's nearly-nonexistant gravity. Instead, the Japanese robots hop across the asteroid to take their magnificent snaps.

    The rovers have also sent back several still images. Some of them are blurry, as they were taken while the rovers were rotating. Others feature the reflection of sunlight playing tricks on the exploratory robots' colored cameras.

    At least one of the rovers was moving on the asteroid's surface, JAXA reported, touting Minerva-II1 as the world's first man-made objects to ever land on an asteroid and explore its movement from the surface.

    JAXA has also obtained the highest-resolution photographs of Ryugu's surface to date, taken with Hayabusa2's onboard camera as it approached the asteroid to lower the rovers.

    Hayabusa2, an asteroid sample-return mission led by JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, completed its 42-month, 300-million-kilometer journey to Ryugu on June 28. It is scheduled to depart from Ryugu in December 2019 and isn't expected to return home with its samples until December 2020.


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    spacecraft, rover, video, asteroid, Minerva-II1, JAXA, Japan
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