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Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft leaves Ryugu asteroid, heads back to Earth

The Hayabusa2 probe begins its long journey back to Earth with samples of the asteroid on board.

Goodbye, Ryugu. It's been real.

The Hayabusa2 spacecraft has had a close relationship with asteroid Ryugu. It sent rovers and landers to its surface, fired a bullet at it and blasted a hole in the asteroid with a mini cannonball

But everything good must come to an end and Hayabusa2 is now on its way back home.

JAXA, Japan's space agency, announced on Twitter Tuesday that the spacecraft is leaving its space buddy. The pair have been hanging out together since Hayabusa2's arrival in mid-2018.

Hayabusa2 isn't leaving empty-handed. The spacecraft touched down on the asteroid and collected samples to bring back to Earth. Talk about a quality souvenir. 

JAXA sent Hayabusa2 off on its ambitious journey in 2014. The agency plans for Hayabusa2 to drop the sample capsule into Earth's atmosphere in late 2020 for recovery in Australia. The spacecraft will then perform an escape maneuver to stay in operation in space.

If the sample capsule comes through as expected, scientists will study the material to learn how ancient Ryugu was formed and to gain new insights into the early solar system. 

Hayabusa2's mission has been a rollicking success so far. Now it just has to ace the return.