We all know that asteroids exist, but for the most part, no one really thinks about them outside of the rare possibility that one could collide with Earth. Beyond this, the astronomical objects are out there, constantly flying around and occasionally running into each other. This week, humanity gets it's best look yet at an asteroid in action...
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Japan's space agency JAXA sent two rovers, known collectively as MINERVA-II1, into outer space to land on a 1-kilometer-wide asteroid, which has been named Ryugu. They recently sent back pictures from their descent, as well as the actual surface of the space rock. Below is a computer generated image of the MINERVA-II1.
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The rovers, which are small enough to be handheld, will now move across the asteroid and take more photographs, with plans to send a third to Ryugu in October. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft that is transporting the rovers was launched three years ago and will eventually land on the asteroid, but only after an explosive creates a crater for rock samples to be collected.
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In a statement, JAXA said they want their research to "clarify interactions between the building blocks of Earth and the evolution of its oceans and life, thereby developing solar system science." Some of the images show the surface of the asteroid, which is incredibly textured and covered in all sizes of rocks.
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These aren't the first photos of an asteroid, with many being taken over the years that show a variety of different appearances, but they're definitely the best. Some of the older pictures look more like blurs, blips and random flashes of light that feed into people's wild imaginations. These new images show how truly ordinary an asteroid is, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
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