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Japan's enterprising asteroid-sampling spacecraft began they journey home Tuesday (Nov. 12), packed full of precious space rocks that scientists can't wait to get their hands on.
Mission controllers and with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) told the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to turn toward home at 10:05 a.m. local time Nov. 13 (8:05 p.m. EST Nov. 12; 0105 GMT Nov. 13). That command marks the beginning of the last stage of the mission, which launched in December 2014 to explore and sample an asteroid dubbed Ryugu and also included deploying several smaller robots onto the rocky body.
Year - Work - Body - Mission - Scientists
After more than a year packed full of work at the rocky body, mission scientists will now spend a year waiting for the spacecraft's return to Earth. "After the applause, Project Manager [Yuichi] Tsuda murmured a goodbye that sounded both affectionate and a touch lonely," mission personnel wrote on the spacecraft's Twitter.
Related: Japan's Hayabusa2 Drops Target Markers on Asteroid Ryugu
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As Hayabusa2 leaves its erstwhile companion, one of the signature activities of the mission will take on a new tone. For months, the spacecraft has beamed home sequences of images showing Ryugu gradually growing larger as the probe approached its target for individual maneuvers. In the navigation-camera images, the asteroid would morph from a grayish pinprick to an intricately rubble-covered world.
Sequence - Time - Reverse - Imaging - Campaign
Now, that sequence is playing out one final time in reverse, in an imaging campaign dubbed "Goodbye Ryugu." The series is scheduled to last for five days, until Nov. 18 at mission control, with a new image appearing on the mission website every...
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