back to article Chinese spacecraft JUUUUST avoids smashing into Toutatis

Chinese probe Chang'e-2 has successfully flown by Toutatis, an asteroid named for the Celtic deity often invoked by cartoon characters Asterix and Obelix. 4179 Toutatis, to give the object its full name, has an orbit that brings it very close to Earth's, before swinging out into Jupiter's neighbourhood. Last week that orbit …


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  1. Esskay

    A rather unfortunate shape

    If I saw an asteroid heading for earth that looked like that, I'd find it somewhat hard to take it seriously...

  2. peyton?

    Re: A rather unfortunate shape

    snicker. Hate to admit it, but it did make me think of Black Adder's puritanical aunt, and a turnip.

  3. BeholdersEye


    looks like a model mushroom to me....

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of Yosamatie Sam

    Whoooooaaaaaaaaaaa close it, close it, close it......

    Whoaaaaaaaaaaa, open it, open it, open it.....

    Pity they didn't nuke it - the nasty space rock that is.

    One day, it's probably going to cause a big problem.

  5. Psyx

    Re: Reminds me of Yosamatie Sam

    "Pity they didn't nuke it - One day, it's probably going to cause a big problem."

    Nuke everything that might be a problem?

    But this was a Chinese mission, not an American one!

  6. James Micallef Silver badge

    Re: One day, it's probably going to cause a big problem.

    By Toutatis, the sky is falling on our heads!!

  7. ShelLuser


    Funny guys those Romans, errrr, Americans....

  8. Stoneshop Silver badge

    Re: Nuking?

    That's 'These Romans Americans are crazy!' for the English-speaking parts of the world

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Micro gravitation changes?

    Does such a close encounter have any gravitational affect on the asteroids orbital path?

    Might it now be on a collision course with us in another 5,000 years?

    Asking for a time traveling friend.

  10. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    Asking for a time traveling friend.

    Why don't you ask your time traveling friend to just pop 5,000 years into the future and find out ?

  11. Annihilator

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    "Does such a close encounter have any gravitational affect on the asteroids orbital path?"

    Yes, a very very very (...etc...) slight one. In the same way any craft does when using gravity assisted accelerations or deccelerations.

    "Might it now be on a collision course with us in another 5,000 years?"

    It might, but then again it may have nudged it off a collision course. Our ability to calculate orbital paths of small objects isn't as accurate as that.

  12. Tom_

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    "Does such a close encounter have any gravitational affect on the asteroids orbital path?

    Might it now be on a collision course with us in another 5,000 years?"

    Lucily, launching the probe from Earth on a one way mission means the Chinese have also adjusted the orbit of the Earth and it's possible they've done so in such a way that they have prevented a future collision.

  13. BoldMan

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    I'm a time traveller so I'll let you know when I get there - it will sadly take 5000 years as I'm travelling into the future at one second every second which means it'll take me... um... 5000 years.

  14. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    Careful what you ask for, you may get it... Asking for a time traveling friend.

    Dey turk er jurbs!

  15. mr.K

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    If you have a lottery where the winner number is only revealed if you win. And suppose you decide on a number and then a friend comes along and says you should add one to that number. There are two outcomes, either you win, or you do not. If you do not it is still highly unlikely that you would have won on your original number and you will never know, but if you do win you know it is because you added one.

    Back to China, if it does hit us at some point we know it is their fault. If we avoided disaster because of it (it nudged it just out of course), we will never know. Canada! (Sorry, it is my goto blame-country)

  16. BorkedAgain
    Thumb Up

    Re: Micro gravitation changes?

    @ BoldMan - Is that the fastest you can go? I'm travelling at an average rate of 60 minutes per hour, although some afternoons it seems considerably slower...

  17. Mark Simon


    Shouldn’t the title be:

    Chinese Spacecraft Zips, by Toutatis!

  18. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Go Chinese!

    Excellent work by the Chinese space programme. Great to see multiple space programmes of the ground (sorry, couldn't resist). Maybe a bit of competition will sting people into more action

    I'll raise a glass of Sinkiang black beer to that, by Toutatis!

  19. Crisp Silver badge

    Re: Go Chinese!

    It's a whole new space race :D

  20. Simon Ward
    Thumb Up

    Re: Go Chinese!

    Quite so.

    This further reinforces my belief that when we do eventually put a man on Mars (or even revisit the Moon) they probably won't be Russian or American.

  21. Keith 72

    Re: Go Chinese!

    It would be brilliant if there were more international co-operation evident. NASA recently released ( a radar video of Toutatis tumbilng through space how much cooler would have been if it could have shown Chang'e-2 whizzing about too, although I guess scale might be an issue.

  22. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Re: Go Chinese!

    It would be brilliant if there were more international co-operation evident

    No, no, no! The last thing you want is more international co-operation, look how much human advancement there has been due to competition.

    Did america go to the moon for the betterment of humanity, No, they went to the moon to get there before the Russians, will the america go back to the moon for science, maybe; will america go back to the moon if the Chinese establish a base on the moon, you can bet your bottom dollar they will.

    A red Mars, no way, it's going to be a red, white and blue Mars.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Go Chinese!

    Chinese looking for places to send their excess population.

  24. mhenriday

    Re: Go Chinese!

    Have to agree that more international cooperation is needed in human space endeavours. Getting to and returning from Luna, at a mean distance of some 384 400 km from Earth, was one thing, but getting humans to and returning them from Mars, with a distance from Earth at close approach which ranges from 54 to 103 million km, and other small obstacles (think radiation, etc) on the way is an entirely different matter entirely. But alas, so long as troglodytes like US Representative Frank Rudolph Wolf are allowed to render it impossible for NASA to cooperate in any form with its Chinese counterpart, such cooperation will have to wait....


  25. ian 22

    Re: Go Chinese!

    It appears Elon Musk has a bit competition.

    Go Elon!

    NASA? Nah, they're skint.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is it just me, or does Toutatis' irregular shape make it "feel" more dangerous? As a boy I always imagined asteroids as perfect spheres - mini-planets - probably because they always looked that way in books (or The Beano). There's something about Toutatis' complete lack of symmetry that brings home that it isn't any kind of "celestial" body, just a huge tumbling mass of rock. And that in turn leads to the thought that it probably doesn't have any neat, tidy destiny: it might go on orbiting for millions of years; on the other hand, it could just as well hit the Earth and cause hideous disaster.

  27. Filippo

    Re: Sinister

    Shape has nothing to do with path. Actually, the irregular shape tells me that it's not massive enough to collapse into a sphere, which is a little bit reassuring when thinking about collisions. I'd be much more worried if anything big enough to be a sphere were to hit Earth.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Sinister

    It's not the shape that would worry me but the speed it would be moving relative the earth at impact...

  29. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Very nice but...

    Why do these Chinese Explanatory Posters look like something one might find as inlay on a typical ripped DVD in a market stall in Shanghai?

  30. pixl97

    Re: Very nice but...

    What do you think that artist does for a day job. It's a good long time between events in space and he has to feed his family.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Causing a stir....... fry....

    I see the real reason for their pictures....


    Chinese food producer interested in large root of ginger asteroid aims to corner market in stir fries.

  32. Arachnoid
    Thumb Up

    A vertibale space potato ergo when they get too close they become a hot potato !

  33. Pastafarian

    Is it just me?

    Or does that asteroid look like one of those giant heads on Easter Island.

    OK. It IS just me.

  34. ArmanX

    Re: Is it just me?

    It looks like a potato to me... bomb it with some oil, pass it close to the sun, and BAM, lunch!

  35. Blitterbug

    Very very cool.

    Wouldn't it be great if NASA were allowed to sent them some official congrats? I'm sure they would want to...

  36. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Re: Very very cool.

    I would not be surprised if they have.

  37. Andus McCoatover

    <blackadderrmode> "It looks like a thingy! </blackadderrmode>

  38. Psyx

    Really? Looks more like a turnip to me...

  39. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    Mmmmm Chinese fly-by's

    problem is that half an hour later you want another one

  40. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Re: Mmmmm Chinese fly-by's

    problem is that half an hour later you want another one

    No, it's the McFlyBy that has that effect.

  41. Dave Bell

    Nice Work

    That all looks like a fine piece of work by the Chinese.

    I would wonder if they have the sort of deep-space tracking and communications network that NASA has. That may be a bigger problem than the engineering of the spacecraft needed for an interplanetary mission. Sometimes you have to look past the obvious shiny.

  42. Smallbrainfield


    The post is required, and must contain letters.

  43. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Keep an eye out for a f'off chisel

    that looks ominously like a stone masons mallet to me!

    And can I have 2 47's and some egg fried rice to ceres and hold the prawn crackers

    to stop them floating away again!

  44. Jon Green

    More than one picture?

    I can't see any evidence that we're not looking at a single picture, with different scalings. As the spacecraft passes, I would expect to see previously-occulted features exposed, and previously-visible features fall behind the viewline. The fact that every picture in that series appears to show _exactly_ the same face ... well, the only way to achieve that is to fly the spacecraft directly at the middle of it, and even then you'd expect to see some edge features disappear as it got close, and some parallax effects.

    So I call: "One photo only, and a bit of Photoshopping." Anyone see evidence otherwise?

  45. Wombling_Free

    Photoshop in Spaaaaace!

    I agree with Jon, this looks like a case of 'we got one picture, lets photoshop so it looks like we did a flyby'.

    I seem to recall that most asteroids rotate pretty quickly on account of them being pretty small. Also if you pass by that close, your photographic angle should change, and you should see the asteroid appear to revolve. Toutatis, by Toutatis, appears to scale and translate instead of rotate - hence in my totally unprofessional view as an El Reg Comentard it is photoshopped.

    Let's hope they haven't been reading 'Titan' by Stephen Baxter, or we are all in for a really nasty 2013.

  46. Eddie Edwards

    Re: Photoshop in Spaaaaace!

    A quick Google shows the asteroid has a rotation period of 5-7 days, so it would not have rotated significantly during the flyby.

    This isn't like those sedate fly-bys of Jupiter and Saturn. Wikipedia says the approach was taken at 10km/s relative velocity with a closest distance of 3km. The asteroid is 4km long. If you scale that to human units it's like driving past a house by the side of the road at 60mph, and trying to get a clear picture of the front. (If you scale to Voyager units it's like flying past Jupiter at 1/2 the speed of light!)

    They did have quite a good camera on board though, so possibly it was the problem of rotating it fast enough to track an object at that speed. Maybe the camera mount doesn't rotate at all, only the craft. Lots of issues to solve to get that picture.

  47. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Re: Photoshop in Spaaaaace!

    Could also be that it's actually a fleet of seven Toutatises poised to attack earth like interplanetary giganto-turds!

  48. MrXavia
    Thumb Up

    Nice one!

    glad to see a probe being used for multiple purposes not just one target!

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Appreciate the visit.

    Thumbs up from Toatatis, by the look of it.

  50. NogginTheNog


    Does anyone else see a resemblance to the cheese-eating robo-appliance Wallace and Gromit met on the moon in A Grand Day Out?!


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