Sunday, July 11, 2010
Rosetta spacecraft flies by asteroid Lutetia
The Rosetta spacecraft aquired several images of asteroid Lutetia. Rosetta is headed towards comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and will go into orbit about that comet in 2014. But this spacecraft also made a close pass at asteroid Lutetia while en route. Additional images are also posted at the European Space Agency's website. Lutetia might be a C type asteroid, ie a carbonaceous chondrite, which is a fairly common rocky asteroid that is also rich in organic molecules. Or else it is an M type asteroid, which is rich in metallic nickel-iron. M-types must have once resided deep inside the core of a much larger asteroid that likely fragmented early in the Solar System's history. These observations by Rosetta should resolve this asteroid's composition, and may provide clues about its origin.