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Tiny rovers see their shadow on the asteroid they're about to land on

Japan's Hayabusa-2 spacecraft throws two little robots down toward the surface of Ryugu for a better look.


The shadow of a Minerva-II lander, caught as it descends to the surface of the asteroid Ryugu.


Right about now, there should be two tiny rovers hopping around the surface of the large asteroid Ryugu.

The pair of cylindrical Minerva-II rovers were basically flung off the Japanese Space Agency's Hayabusa-2 spacecraft on Thursday. Their job is to scout out the surface of the space rock before the larger probe attempts a landing itself next month.

On the way down, the rovers' on-board cameras captured their descent in the form of the shadows that the duo of 7-inch (18 cm) robots projected on the surface of Ryugu.

The above image was taken from just 80 meters (87 yards) above the surface. The space agency also shared images taken by the rovers during the descent in real-time as they came in. 

The two Minerva-II robots are designed to take advantage of the asteroid's low gravity, making long hops across its surface.

Up next for the Hayabusa-2 mission is another rover, dubbed Mascot. It'll be sent to investigate the surface in more detail before the main spacecraft descends to collect a sample, which will eventually be brought back to Earth.