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Image captured by Rover-1A on Sept. 22. Color image captured while hopping on the surface of Ryugu. The left half of the image is the asteroid surface. The bright white region is due to sunlight. Photo: JAXA

Japan's space agency (JAXA) successfully landed two robotic rovers on the asteroid 162173 Ryugu on Sept. 21, marking the first human-made robots to land, move autonomously on an asteroid surface and capture pictures.

Why it matters: The two MINERVA-II1 rovers are part of Japan's ambitious project to learn more about asteroids by deploying various robotic crafts, known as the Hayabusa2 Project.

The history: The success of these rovers comes 13 years after the first Hayabusa mission failed to successfully deploy its mini-lander, known as MINERVA.

What they're saying: "I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realize mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid," says Yuichi Tsuda, Hayabusa2 project manager, in a statement. "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."

"I was so moved to see these small rovers successfully explore an asteroid surface because we could not achieve this at the time of Hayabusa, 13 years ago."
— Makoto Yoshikawa, Hayabusa2 project mission manager
Image captured by Rover-1B on Sept. 21. This color image was taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft. The surface of Ryugu is in the lower right. The colored blur in the top left is due to the reflection of sunlight when the image was taken. Photo: JAXA

What's next: The two MINERVA-II1 rovers have cameras on board that can shoot in color, and they have already sent pictures back to Earth. Rover-1A and Rover-1B have been taking pictures as they hop around on the asteroid's surface, but they're not the culmination of the mission.

  • Still to come are the deployment of two other vehicles that will study other details of the asteroid — with the goal of gathering asteroid samples to eventually return them to Earth.

Go deeper: The website of the JAXA Hayabusa2 Project.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

8 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.