Space hoppers hitch ride on an asteroid

From Asteroid Landing Back to EarthA feat years in the making

From Asteroid Landing Back to EarthA feat years in the making

Almost four years after launch, Japan's Hayabusa2 space probe dropped to within about 180 feet of an asteroid and released two small landers Friday that are created to hop about the surface, snapping pictures and charting the ancient body's temperature and chemical composition.

Hayabusa2 released the Minerva-II 1 rovers toward a point about 140 meters north of Ryugu's equator on Friday afternoon Japan time.

You'll be waiting a while for the samples to return. MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1a & 1b. "Analysis of this information confirmed that at least one of the rovers..."

"Both rovers are in good shape", said JAXA.

They will also measure the surface temperature ahead of Hayabusa2's own landing late next month.

The two rovers are part of the Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission, headed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

This is a picture from MINERVA-II1. After the rovers were on their way, the spacecraft raised itself back up to its typical altitude of about 12.5 miles above the asteroid's surface (20 kilometers).

Spectacular photos captured their "hop" onto Ryugu's barren surface.

The rovers are created to hop along the asteroid's surface, taking photographs and gathering data.

While the first images were less than awe-inspiring, successive shots show a craggy, pitted surface fit for a Hollywood blockbuster.

Hayabusa2 launched from Earth back in November, 2014, aboard a Japanese H-IIA rocket, and arrived in the vicinity of Ryugu in June of this year.

The cautious announcement came after a similar JAXA probe in 2005 released a rover which failed to reach its target asteroid.

Ryugu is a particularly primitive variety, and studying it could shed light on the origin and evolution of our own planet.

Though the Hayabusa2 team calls them rovers, the bantam craft won't roll along like the Mars explorer Curiosity; rather, MINERVA-II1A and MINERVA-II1B will hop from place to place on Ryugu's surface, thanks to internal rotating motors.

"Hayabusa-2" weighs about 600 kg.

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