Trending: The buzz is building for Amazon’s HQ2

Ryugu's surface
The MASCOT lander’s view of asteroid Ryugu’s lumpy, bumpy surface was displayed during a post-mission news conference. Click on the image for more from German science writer Daniel Fischer’s Skyweek 2.0 website. (DLR Photo / Processed by Daniel Fischer)

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe and the German-French MASCOT lander have teamed up to send back amazing views of an asteroid that’s more than 180 million miles from Earth, including a snapshot of the lander falling toward the asteroid and an on-the-ground view of its rocky terrain.

Scientists shared the images today at the International Astronautical Congress in Germany, during a recap of MASCOT’s successful 17-hour survey of the asteroid Ryugu. Hayabusa 2, which has been hovering above the half-mile-wide asteroid for weeks, dropped the foot-wide, boxy lander onto the surface on Wednesday.

MASCOT stands for “Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout.” The robotic scout conducted a scientific sweep with its four instruments — a camera, a radiometer, a magnetometer and an infrared spectrometer —  and used its robotic swing arm as necessary to hop around the surface. It operated for three asteroid days and two asteroid nights, with each full day-night cycle lasting about seven hours and 36 minutes.

“With MASCOT, it has been possible to, for the first time, explore the surface of an asteroid directly on site so extensively,” Hansjörg Dittus, executive board member for space research and technology at Germany’s DLR space agency, said in a news release.

MASCOT uploaded a treasure trove of imagery and data to Hayabusa 2 for storage before its batteries ran out, and the Japanese probe has been relaying the pictures and readings back to Earth.

“The evaluation of the valuable data has just begun,” said MASCOT project manager Tra-Mi Ho, a researcher at the DLR Institute of Space Systems. “We will learn a lot about the past of the solar system and the importance of near-Earth asteroids like Ryugu.”

MASCOT’s mission came two weeks after Hayabusa 2 deployed two mini-rovers to Ryugu’s surface for an initial round of reconnaissance. In the coming months, Hayabusa 2 will descend to the asteroid and blast bits of rock from the surface for collection. It also has another mini-rover to release.

The probe is scheduled to start the return journey to Earth next year and drop off its samples during a flyby in late 2020.

Here’s a gallery of images from MASCOT and Hayabusa 2:

MASCOT seen by Hayabusa 2
The boxy MASCOT lander can be seen toward the upper edge of this image captured by the Hayabusa 2 probe just after MASCOT’s release. The rugged terrain of asteroid Ryugu provides a backdrop. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)
Ryugu anaglyph
Get out your red-blue glasses to see a 3-D anaglyph version of Hayabusa 2’s view of Ryugu and MASCOT’s descent. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST / Additional processing by Wolfgang Muehle)
Ryugu
X marks the spot on the asteroid Ryugu where MASCOT landed. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)
Shadows of probes
An image captured by the Hayabusa 2 probe shows its own shadow, along with the glint of the MASCOT lander and its shadow during descent to Ryugu’s surface. The inset pictures zoom in on the features, with measurements marked in meters. (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)
MASCOT view
A picture from MASCOT shows the surface of Ryugu as seen from a few meters away. (DLR Photo)
Ryugu just before touchdown
MASCOT captured this picture just before it touched down on the surface of Ryugu, with sunlight glinting through the lens. (DLR Photo)
Mission control
About 40 scientists followed the MASCOT lander’s progress from DLR’s mission control site in Cologne, Germany. (DLR Photo)
Subscribe to GeekWire's Space & Science weekly newsletter

Comments

Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.