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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

32 mins ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia structures in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.

Dave Lawler, author of World
52 mins ago - World

Biden's big Saudi reset

Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Ryad Kramdi/AFP via Getty

President Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia's King Salman this evening ahead of the release of a CIA report expected to implicate the king's son, and the kingdom's de facto ruler, in the murder of a U.S.-based journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Why it matters: In one month, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) by declining to speak with him directly.