The asteroid Ryugu after Hayabusa2 departed its orbit around a distant asteroid and headed for Earth.—AFP
The asteroid Ryugu after Hayabusa2 departed its orbit around a distant asteroid and headed for Earth.—AFP

TOKYO: A Japanese spacecraft left a distant asteroid on Wednesday, starting its yearlong journey home after successfully completing its mission to gather soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, the country’s space agency said.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the Hayabusa2 spacecraft left its orbit around the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth.

Hayabusa2 staff at the command center stood up and cheered when JAXA project manager Yuichi Tsuda confirmed the departure.

The spacecraft captured and transmitted to Earth some of its final images of Ryugu, or “Dragon Palace,” named after a sea-bottom castle in a Japanese folk tale, as it slowly began moving away, JAXA said. Hayabusa2 will continue its “farewell filming” of the asteroid for a few more days.

Hayabusa2 will adjust its position about Nov 18 after retreating 65 kilometres from the asteroid and out of its the gravitational pull. After that, Ryugu will be out of its sight.

“It’s sad to say goodbye to Ryugu,” Tsuda said at a briefing Tuesday. “Literally it has been at the center of our lives over the past 1 years.” The spacecraft will then ignite its main thrusters in early December to propel it back to Earth.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2019