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Chinese orbiter completes close flyby of asteroid 4179 Toutatis

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Flyby images from Toutatis asteroid

The Chinese lunar orbiter Chang’e 2 has completed a maneuver that allowed a close flyby of asteroid 4179 Toutatis, a five-kilometer (three mile) long space rock that recently had a “close” encounter with Earth. The flyby was made on December 13, 2012.  According to Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency, the probe made a close approach of only 3.2 kilometers from the potato-shaped asteroid, traveling at a speed of 10.73 kilometers per second relative to the asteroid. The series of images above depict the asteroid when the probe was between 93-240 kilometers away. China is the fourth space agency to make an asteroid close-encounter after NASA (United States), ESA (European Union) and JAXA (Japan).

Chang’e-2 is continuing its deep space travel and will reach a distance of more than 10 million km away from Earth in January next year. Since its blast-off, Chang’e 2 has scored several records: being the first to capture full coverage map of the moon with a resolution of seven meters; being the first object ever to reach the L2 point directly from lunar orbit; and being the first to closely observe the asteroid Toutatis.