Home Science Space Chinese Chang'e 2 probe snaps pics of asteroid Toutatis
China's Chang'e-2 deepspace probe took a series of images of the asteroid Toutatis during its December 13, 2012 flyby. China's Chang'e-2 deepspace probe took a series of images of the asteroid Toutatis during its December 13, 2012 flyby. SASTIND via Weibo / UMSF Featured

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The Chinese (converted) deep-space probe Chang'e 2 flew by the asteroid Toutatis on December 13, 2012, and took a series of images of the celestial body. Only three other countries have made close encounters with asteroids.

The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the asteroid encounter with 4179 Toutatis in the December 15, 2012 article "Chinese space probe flies by asteroid Toutatis".

The article states, "China's space probe Chang'e-2 has successfully conducted a maneuver in which it flew by the asteroid Toutatis, about seven million km away from the Earth."

It adds, "The flyby was the first time an unmanned spacecraft launched from Earth has taken such a close viewing of the asteroid, named after a Celtic god."

The encounter of Chang'e 2 with the 5-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) asteroid began at 16:30:09 Beijing Time (08:30:09 GMT) on December 13th, according to the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).

The approximate speed of the Chinese probe at the time of the asteroid encounter was 10.73 kilometers per second (24,000 miles per hour). The Chang'e 2 probe originally had a mission to orbit the Moon. Upon completion of this mission, the probe was directed into an extended mission within deep space (inside our solar system), for an encounter with the asteroid Toutalis.

Only four countries or organizations have successfully made close encounters with asteroids. China is now the forth country to accomplish this feat.

The three countries and one organization are: the United States (National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA], with such missions as Dawn and NEAR Shoemaker), the European Union (European Space Agency [ESA] with Rosetta), Japan (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA] with Hayabusa), and China (China National Space Administrtion [CNSA] with Chang'e).

The NBC News article "New milestone for China: Probe snaps close-ups of asteroid Toutatis" provides additional information on the mission to the asteroid, and a video of the asteroid when it was approximately 7 million kilometers (4.3 million miles) away from the Earth, its closest approach to Earth in recent years.

The December 15, 2012 NBC News article states, "Toutatis is a near-Earth object that's big enough to cause a mass extinction if it were to hit our planet — but fortunately, it isn't projected to come all that near in the foreseeable future."

And, "This week it passed by Earth at a minimum distance of 4.3 million miles (7 million kilometers). That provided scientists with an opportunity to study the peanut-shaped space mountain at a relatively close but totally safe distance."


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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University