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...
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 …
"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.
"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.
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. So....like...blame Canada! (Sorry, it is my goto blame-country)
It would be brilliant if there were more international co-operation evident. NASA recently released (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/asteroids/news/asteroid20121214.html) 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.
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.
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....
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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