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 kilometres (180 million miles) from Earth.
Hayabusa2 staff at the command centre 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 kilometers (40 miles) from the asteroid and out of its the gravitational pull. After that, Ryugu will be out of its sight.
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