Deep space fly-by: Incredible pictures taken by Chinese probe passing asteroid show giant rock 4.5 million miles from Earth
21:48 GMT, 15 December 2012
A Chinese spacecraft has carried out a deep space fly-by on an asteroid four and a half million miles away from the Earth.
The Chang'e-2 probe successfully conducted the mission to scan the surface of the asteroid Toutatis.
It happened on December 13 at 16.30om Beijing Time, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense announced today.
The Chinese space probe flew got around two miles away from the asteroid Toutatis, officials said
At 2.7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide,
astronomers say it is considered a potentially hazardous asteroid
because it makes repeated passes by the Earth, about every four years.
In comparison, the asteroid that is thought to have destroyed the dinosaurs was approximately 10 km (6 miles) wide.
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.
China followed in the footsteps of the U.S., the European Union and Japan by using an spacecraft to examine an asteroid.
Chang'e-2 came as close as miles from Toutatis and took pictures of the asteroid at a relative velocity of 10.73km per second, the SASTIND said in a statement.
Sources with the administration told the Xinhua news agency that Chang'e-2 is continuing its deep space travel and will reach a distance of more than six million miles away from Earth in January next year.
Chang'e-2 was launched on October 1, 2010, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center and later orbited the moon in a more ambitious mission than its predecessor Chang'e-1.
Chang'e-2 left its lunar orbit for an extended mission to the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrangian point on June 9, 2011, after finishing its lunar objectives, which collected data for a complete lunar map.
Here is a graphic showing the moment the spacecraft passed within two miles of the asteroid Toutatis
Chang'e-2 was launched on October 1, 2010, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Here is mission control
China claims it was the first to closely observe the asteroid Toutatis, although other space missions have pictured it
The probe departed from L2 this year and began its mission to Toutatis.
Since its blast-off, Chang'e 2 has become the first to capture full coverage map of the moon with a resolution of seven meters.
China claims it was also the first object ever to reach the L2 point directly from lunar orbit; and being the first to closely observe the asteroid Toutatis.
China early this year published a full coverage map of the moon, as well as several high-resolution images of the celestial body, captured by Chang'e-2. The resolution of the images is 17 times greater than those taken by Chang'e-1.
'The success of the extended missions also embodies that China now possesses spacecraft capable of interplanetary flight,' said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program.
Chang'e-2's extended missions, which were conducted millions of miles away from Earth, have tested China's spacecraft tracking and control network, including two newly built measuring and control stations in the northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and northeast Heilongjiang province, according to the SASTIND.
However, China still belongs to the second tier in lunar probe internationally, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist for China's lunar orbiter project, adding that the U.S. and Russia are still leading nations in this field.
Wu Weiren stressed the need for international cooperation in lunar probe mission, saying it is a shared responsibility of world scientists to work together in lunar and deep space exploration for the common good of the human race.