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Published July 12, 2010

Between Mars and Jupiter, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft captured the first close-up images of asteroid 21 Lutetia Saturday, with scientists comparing the pictures to "the discovery of a new world."

© 2010 National Geographic; Video Courtesy ESA


Asteroid Flyby July 10—European Probe Closing In

Asteroid Facts


Scientists are likening new images from a large asteroid to ‘discovery of a new world.’

The 21 Lutetia asteroid is located between Jupiter and Mars, and the European Space Agency’s probe “Rosetta” passed within about 2,000 miles of it, snapping pictures as it whizzed by.

SOUNDBITE: Holger Sierks, ESA OSIRIS Principal Investigator, Max Planck Institute for Solary System Research:“We discovered tonight a new world. It’s the largest asteroid ever seen by a human, and it ‘s really, really exciting. It’s so cool!”

Only observed before by ground-based telescopes, astronomers and graphic artists have imaged its shape, and no one is sure of what it’s made of, or its origin.

The Lutetia asteroid is estimated to be about 75 miles long. It’s very old, perhaps four-and a-half-billion years age, and shows signs of its wear, sporting lots of craters.

SOUNDBITE: Holger Sierks, ESA OSIRIS Principal Investigator, Max Planck Institute for Solary System Research: “We saw really great craters of 70 kilometers size. They are like a bowl. They are so large, they are so huge. And they are covered, so most of the larger craters, they have a round rim, so they are very , very old craters, so it’s discovery. So we have a lot of large craters, tons of old craters and tons of small craters, so it’s a lot of topography , a lot of excitement. We don’t understand right now, and it’ll keep us busy working months and years, studying these images. “

ESA’s probe made its flyby Saturday, capping a tense weekend for scientists at the agency’s Darmstadt, Germany Operations Centre, who have guided the Rosetta spacecraft since its launch more than 6 years ago.



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