Asteroid Lutetia – up close and personal

Asteroid Lutetia has been revealed as a battered world of many craters. ESA’s Rosetta mission has returned the first close-up images of the asteroid showing it is most probably a primitive survivor from the violent birth of the Solar System.

The flyby was a spectacular success with Rosetta performing faultlessly…

The images show that Lutetia is heavily cratered, having suffered many impacts during its 4.5 billion years of existence. As Rosetta drew close, a giant bowl-shaped depression stretching across much of the asteroid rotated into view. The images confirm that Lutetia is an elongated body, with its longest side around 130km.

“I think this is a very old object. Tonight we have seen a remnant of the Solar System’s creation,” says Holger Sierks, OSIRIS principal investigator, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Lindau, Germany.

Rosetta raced past the asteroid at 15 km/s completing the flyby in just a minute. But the cameras and other instruments had been working for hours and in some cases days beforehand, and will continue afterwards. Shortly after closest approach, Rosetta began transmitting data to Earth for processing…

The flyby marks the attainment of one of Rosetta’s main scientific objectives. The spacecraft will now continue to a 2014 rendezvous with its primary target, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will then accompany the comet for months, from near the orbit of Jupiter down to its closest approach to the Sun. In November 2014, Rosetta will release Philae to land on the comet nucleus.

RTFA. Lots of great photos.

As the ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, said – “It has been a great day for exploration, a great day for European science.”

Extending, expanding knowledge of our solar system is a natural goal for inquiring scientific minds. Every step forward opens more avenues for study and learning, understanding the context of our evolution.