Japan space rovers send pictures back after first ever asteroid landing

The left-half of the image is the asteroid surface captured by Rover -1A. Credit: JAXA

Two Japanese mini space rovers have captured the moment they landed on the surface of an asteroid.

The Japan Space Exploration Agency, JAXA, launched the rovers on Hayabusa2, which they released from the craft on September 21.

The team behind the expedition faced a nervous two-day wait for Minerva-II1 rovers to send back information.

Minerva-II1 is the world’s first rover to land on the surface of an asteroid, according to JAXA.

It is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture on an asteroid surface.

The rovers move by "hopping" because the extremely weak gravity on the asteroid makes rolling difficult.

This is a colour image taken immediately after separation from the spacecraft - Hayabusa2 is at the top and the surface of Ryugu is bottom. Credit: JAXA

Since it arrived at Ryugu, scientists have been looking for suitable landing sites on the uneven surface.

In a statement, JAXA said: "The two rovers are in good condition and are transmitting images and data. Analysis of this information confirmed that at least one of the rovers is moving on the asteroid surface."

Hayabusa2 is also scheduled to attempt three brief touch-and-go landings on the asteroid to collect samples in hopes of providing clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

The spacecraft is set to release a German-French lander called Mascot carrying four observation devices in early October and a bigger rover called Minerva-II-2 next year.

Illustration of two drum-shaped and solar-powered Minerva-II-1 rovers on an asteroid. Credit: Jaxa/AP

Yuichi Tsuda, a manager for the Hayabusa2 project said: "I cannot find words to express how happy I am that we were able to realise mobile exploration on the surface of an asteroid.

"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".

Hayabusa2, launched in December 2014, and is due back to Earth in 2020.