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A Japanese space probe Friday released a pair of exploring rovers towards an egg-shaped asteroid to collect mineral samples that may shed light on the origin of the solar system.
The country is the first to successfully land rovers on an asteroid’s surface. The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft set out on its mission to the 3,000-foot-wide Ryugu asteroid in 2014 and finaly arrived in June this year.
Two of the the mission’s four rovers were deployed from the Hayabusa-2, touching down on the asteroid today. The seven-inch-wide devices will be hopping around the space rock to take photos and temperature readings of Ryugu.
Next month, Hayabusa2 will deploy an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object into the surface to blast a crater a few metres in diameter.
Over the next year, two larger landers will also be released onto the asteroid to collect data and rock samples. The Hayabusa-2 will then depart in December 2019, bringing the rocks back to Earth for researchers to study.
“If we find water and organics are similar to that on Earth, it will be evidence that space rocks like Ryugu are how we all began,” Elizabeth Tasker of Japan’s aerospace agency told New Scientist.
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