Japanese release amazing movie shot from the surface of asteroid Ryugu

27 Sep 2018

Image captured immediately before hop of Rover-1B on 23 September. Image: JAXA

While it’s unlikely to win an Oscar, a short movie shot on the surface of a near-Earth asteroid is a major scientific milestone.

Earlier this week, Japan’s space agency, JAXA, stunned the world with confirmation that it had safely landed two rovers on the surface of asteroid Ryugu, doing what the European Space Agency’s Rosetta had failed to do on Comet 67p.

Having already sent back some stunning photos from Ryugu’s surface, JAXA has now surpassed this feat with the release of the first colour movie ever made on the surface of an asteroid.

Comprising 15 frames, the footage was captured on 23 September, revealing what it might be like to stand on the surface of an asteroid.

If you’re wondering what the enormous bright light is crossing the top of the camera’s lens, it is the sun in full view, dousing the optics in sunlight.

Bouncing rovers

JAXA also revealed a series of other images captured by the Minerva-II1 rovers, as well as the news that Rover-1B hopped across Ryugu’s surface.

Unlike the Mars rovers, which require trundling along slowly on wheels, the rovers launched from the Hayabusa2 ‘mothership’ are designed to bounce within Ryugu’s low gravity in order to navigate the difficult terrain. They will continue to move across the surface thanks to internal motors on board that rotate in order to propel it.

On 3 October, the Hayabusa2 mothership will deploy a ship called Mascot, which was developed in Europe by the German Aerospace Center and France’s space agency, CNES, and analyse the samples remotely. Later that month, the original Hayabusa2 craft will descend on Ryugu and do what has never been done before: return a sample to Earth.

Speaking after the initial rover landings, Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the Hayabusa2 mission, said: “I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid.

“I am proud that Hayabusa2 was able to contribute to the creation of this technology for a new method of space exploration by surface movement on small bodies.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic