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Final images of asteroid Ryugu released as Hayabusa2 oriented for return to Earth

The asteroid Ryugu is seen on the far right about two hours before the spacecraft Hayabusa2 altered it orientation, at 7:59 a.m. on Nov. 19. (Image courtesy of JAXA, Chiba Institute of Technology & collaborators)

TOKYO -- Japan's space agency released the final images of the asteroid Ryugu taken by its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on Nov. 19, and announced that the probe has successfully altered its orientation for its return to Earth.

The last image of the asteroid released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was taken shortly before the spacecraft performed an attitude control maneuver to the orientation needed to operate its ion engines.

The probe had captured images of Ryugu over the course of about 1 1/2 years after arriving at the asteroid in June last year. Following the latest maneuver, it can no longer see the asteroid.

JAXA's spacecraft touched down on Ryugu on June 27 last year, and its mission, which included a second landing and the creation of an artificial crater on the asteroid, was successful. Hayabusa2 departed from Ryugu on Nov. 13, with its camera still facing the celestial body.

"We're reluctant to part and want to leave while gazing at Ryugu," the probe's project manager Yuichi Tsuda commented.

After the asteroid was no longer in sight, project team members tweeted messages on an official account.

"Now is the time to look ahead. We will look back no more. ... Thank you, Ryugu. Until the day we meet again," a message from Tsuda read.

Seiichiro Watanabe, a professor at Nagoya University, who coordinated observation, also left a message stating, "Beautiful Ryugu, thank you for deepening our technology and scientific understanding. I hope we can meet again one day. Please retain some keepsakes until then."

(Japanese original by Etsuko Nagayama, Opinion Group)

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