Japan has successfully landed two small rovers on the surface of an asteroid in a history-making mission that could provide clues to the origin of the solar system.
Japan’s space agency (JAXA) released photos taken by the MINERVA-II-1 rovers from the surface of Ryugu, a kilometre-wide asteroid orbiting between Earth and Mars.
The rovers, each with a diameter of 18 centimetres, height of seven centimetres and weight of about 1.1 kilogram, were released from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft on Friday.
The JAXA team confirmed on Twitter that both survived the landing, are in good condition and moving on the surface.
“The good news made me so happy,” Hayabusa2 project spokesperson Takashi Kubota said in a statement on the mission website.
“The image taken by MINERVA-II-1 during a hop allowed me to relax as a dream of many years came true. I felt awed by what we had achieved in Japan.
“This is just a real charm of deep space exploration.”
Many asteroids are believed to have formed at the dawn of the solar system. Scientists claim Ryugu could contain organic matter that may have contributed to life on Earth.
Ryugu is a C-type asteroid — these are believed to contain the organic material and water that are considered the seeds of life.
They are also the most common type, making up around 75 per cent of asteroids, but rarely make their way to Earth — so scientists have few opportunities to study their contents.
By exploring Ryugu’s surface and taking samples, the Hayabusa2 mission could help scientists explain the origins and evolution of the Earth.