The Chinese probe Chang'e-2 snapped new images of the Toutatis asteroid from deep space this week, a milestone achievement for China's space program. (Photo : Reuters)
In what has been hailed as a huge achievement for China's space program, the Chinese announced this week that their deep space probe, Chang'e-2, had completed its flyby of the asteroid Toutatis, the probe taking several images of the asteroid and transmitting them back to Earth.
The Chinese deep probe mission proved monumental for China on two fronts.
First, according to the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency, it made China the fourth country to be able to examine an asteroid by spacecraft.
And second, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) declared the mission as the first time a space ship flew by the Toutatis asteroid.
According to Earthsky.org, astronomers first discovered Toutatis in 1934, but the asteroid disappeared soon afterwards, and was not seen for decades until it was rediscovered in 1989. Named after a Celtic tribal protector deity, the Toutatis asteroid passed within 18 lunar distances of Earth earlier this week.
Roughly 4.3 million miles away from Earth, the Chinese probe came within two miles of it before taking images of the asteroid.
Launched by the Chinese in 2010, the $132 million Chang'e 2 was originally designed to orbit the moon. However, the probe was turned into a deep-space explorer after the probe released what many scientists called the best visual map of the moon earlier this year.
Xinhua agency reports say that the space probe will continue its journey into deep space, estimated to reach a distance as far away as 10,000,000 km away from Earth sometime in January 2013.
"The success of the extended missions also embodies that China now possesses spacecraft capable of interplanetary flight," Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program, according to Zee News.