Two Japanese robots have sent back their first video images from the surface of a moving asteroid as part of an unprecedented mission aimed at shedding light on the origins of the solar system.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) released the 15-frame clip along with new photographs days after the unmanned spacecraft Hayabusa2 deployed the rovers on to the asteroid’s surface after a three-and-a-half year journey.
The mission marks the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface, according to Jaxa.
Images on the mission’s Twitter account show a mixture of boulders and relatively smooth patches on the surface of Ryugu asteroid, framed by a black sky.
Jaxa also posted the highest resolution photographs to date of Ryugu’s surface, taken with Hayabusa2’s onboard camera as it approached the asteroid in preparation to release the rovers.
Aided by the low gravity, the roving robots can hop as high as 15 metres across the asteroid’s rocky surface and stay airborne for as long as 15 minutes.
Next month, Hayabusa2 will deploy a device that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a 2kg copper missile to blast a small crater into its surface.
That will enable the spacecraft to make brief touch-and-go landings to collect “fresh” samples of materials that have been protected from millennia of wind and radiation and which may offer clues as to the origins of life on Earth.
Hayabusa2 lowered the two Minerva-II-1 rovers, which resemble round biscuit tins, about 60 metres on to the asteroid’s surface a week ago. The spacecraft arrived near the asteroid, 280m kilometres (174m miles) from Earth, in June.
The mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020, according to the space agency.