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Ryugu close-up
This image of the asteroid Ryugo was captured by the Hayabusa 2 probe’s ONC-T camera at an altitude of about 64 meters (210 feet). Image was taken on Sept. 21. A large boulder is at bottom left, along with a scale bar indicating the length of 1 meter. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST)

The scientists and engineers behind Japan’s Hayabusa 2 mission made history last week when the mission’s mothership dropped two mini-rovers onto the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, 180 million miles from Earth, but they’re not resting on their laurels.

The first rovers to hop around an asteroid’s surface have continued to send back pictures of their travels — and so has the main spacecraft, which is keeping watch dozens of miles above them.

One of the pictures shows a high-resolution view of Ryugu’s surface from above, highlighted by a big boulder’s sharp shadow. The image was captured by the main spacecraft’s telescopic optical navigation camera, or ONC-T, as it closed in on Ryugu for the rover drop on Sept. 21.

“This is the highest-resolution photograph obtained of the surface of Ryugu,” the science team says. Two farther-away pictures from Hayabusa 2’s archive show the wide-angle context for the scene:

Context image of Ryugu
Two long-distance pictures taken by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe zero in on the scene shown in a close-up picture of asteroid Ryugu. (Credit: AXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, Aizu University, AIST)

The spacecraft also has been relaying back more pictures from the mini-rovers. Here’s a six-pack of tweeted highlights, starting with a 15-frame movie assembled from Rover-1B’s snapshots.

There’s still more drama ahead: Hayabusa 2 is due to drop a bigger rover known as MASCOT to Ryugu’s surface on Oct. 3, followed by rounds of surface sampling and the release of yet another mini-rover next year. If all goes well, Hayabusa 2 will head back toward Earth and drop off its precious samples of asteroid soil in late 2020.

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