China is reporting via the country's official news agency that the Chinese Chang'e 2 space probe performed a close flyby of an asteroid called Toutatis on December 13. According to the Chinese, the deep space probe passed by the asteroid at a distance of only 2 miles above the its surface. The feat puts China in place as one of only four countries to ever manage a close flyby with an asteroid.
NASA was able to conduct a close flyby of asteroid with two spacecraft including NEAR Shoemaker and Dawn. The European space agency also conducted its own asteroid flyby with a spacecraft called Rosetta. Japan is also part of the asteroid flyby club with its own probe called Hayabusa.
According to the Xinhua news agency, Chang'e 2 passed the asteroid, which measured three-miles long, at a relative speed of 24,000 mph. The probe took a series of photographs as it zipped past the asteroid. The Chinese space probe was launched in 2010 and its primary mission was to serve as a lunar orbiter.
Once the primary mission ended the spacecraft was then repurposed to explore deep space. The close flyby of asteroid Toutatis was planned for months but China only released details of the mission last Saturday. The asteroid is said to be large enough to cause an extinction event if it impacted with the earth, but it passed by Earth at a minimum distance of 4.3 million miles providing the chance to study the asteroid. NASA did conduct a series of radar observations of the asteroid using the Goldstone radio antenna in California. The exceptionally grainy video below is what NASA recorded.
[via NBC News]