Rosetta Discovers Haunting Beauty in Deep Space
July 14, 2010:
The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft has beamed back close-up
photographs of asteroid Lutetia, an ancient, cratered relic from the
dawn of the solar system. Scientists are abuzz about the stunning
images, which reveal a worldlet of haunting, alien beauty.
"I've never seen anything like it," says Claudia Alexander,
project scientist for the U.S. Rosetta Project. "It looked as though it
could have been fractured off of a mother asteroid – it was all angles
and flat planes, ancient impacts overlaid by newer ones, covered by dust
of some kind."
Some observers are calling this the "Alfred Hitchcock" shot
Rosetta took the picture as it was receding from Lutetia on July 10th.
Credit: ESA [larger
She is particularly intrigued by a giant dent in the asteroid's
"My first guess would be that it's the remnant of a giant
collision that occurred sometime in the distant past," says Alexander.
"The edges look shallow rather than sharp and deep as might be the case
with a fresh crater. I'm sure there will be much more analysis of that
feature in the weeks to come."
And then there's the perplexing appearance that boulders rolled
down Lutetian slopes at some point.
"If that is indeed what we're seeing, the question becomes 'what
could have caused the rolling? Perhaps the asteroid spun-up, spun-down,
or experienced some orbital irregularity. It's not clear right now that
the asteroid is subject to the forces that could cause these things.
This is another issue for further study."
A possible landslide and boulders on asteroid Lutetia. Credit
"Right now we have more questions than answers," Alexander
continues. "We can only speculate at this point about what we're seeing
in the pictures."
Asteroid Lutetia has been a target of interest among astronomers
for many years. It is one of the largest asteroids in the solar system
and has a strange spectrum of reflected light that doesn't look quite
like any other asteroid. When the opportunity presented itself for
Rosetta to pay a visit en route to its prime target, comet
67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, mission planners couldn't pass it up.
Now that Alexander has seen the images, she can't help but wonder
what it would be like to have a walk around.
"Astronauts would have a hard time walking on Lutetia -- the
gravity is likely to be much less than that of the moon," she says.
"Also, the surface regolith looks very powdery, so astronauts might find
themselves sinking in maybe a half-inch or so as they walked."
NASA's MIRO (Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter)
instrument will help determine whether the surface layers are powdery or
rocky. As scientists analyze data from Rosetta's other instruments,
they'll be able to determine Lutetia's mass and density, thus revealing
more about the asteroid's composition and helping solve the riddle of
Is Lutetia a 130-km fragment from a planet that broke apart
billions of years ago? Or is it one of the original planetary building
blocks astronomers call "planetesimals" that has remained the same
because no planet sucked it in during the solar system's formative
As scientists begin to answer these questions with the Rosetta
data, they'll gain new insights into the origin and history of
asteroids, and also learn more about the evolution of the solar system
itself. An asteroid's contents can reveal something about the conditions
and makeup of the solar nebula where the asteroid formed.
"Rosetta took measurements with 17 different instruments," says
Rita Schulz, ESA Project Scientist for the Rosetta Mission. "When all
the data are analyzed, Lutetia will be one of the best known asteroids
"These spectacular images," she says, "are just the beginning."
Coulter | Editor: Dr.
Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA
Asteroid Unmasked By Space Probe Flyby
By Denise Chow
posted:2010 July 10
02:53 pm ET
European spacecraft zoomed by past a mysterious asteroid Saturday July 10 to
first-ever close look at the space rock while flying more than 282
million miles from
European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta space probe flew past the asteroid
an object discovered in 1852 that appeared only as a bright speck in the
astronomers until today.
The first new
of the asteroid (SHOWN BELOW) revealed Lutetia to be a lumpy rock with a
potato-like appearance. Rosetta was about 1,900 miles (3,100 km) from
asteroid at its closest approach.
- OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging
System). The camera system consisting of a narrow angle (700 mm) and a wide
angle camera (140 mm), with an 2048x2048
pixel CCD chip each will take pictures of
the comets. The instrument was constructed in Germany.
enigmatic space rock, which is about 62 miles (100 km) wide, is from the
asteroid belt that orbits between Mars and Jupiter. From Earth, Lutetia
appears as little more than a single point of light to ground-based
As a result,
not much was known about Lutetia, including what it looks like. Data
Rosetta's encounter could provide more conclusive evidence about the
dimensions and composition. [More
approximately its size and rotational period," Rosetta project scientist
Schulz said in a live webcast during the probe's flyby. "The rotational
is something like eight hours, and that will be confirmed after the
are now going to get the details. What is very important for us is the
composition of the asteroid."
asteroid flyby was actually a pit stop for Rosetta, which continued on
its main target – comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
spacecraft launched in 2004 and is expected to arrive at the comet in
also visited a different space rock, the asteroid
Steins, in 2008.
Asteroid Blind Date
asteroid flyby was watched over by dedicated team of mission scientists
ESA Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany. The rendezvous was
live on ESA's website.
1514 GMT (11:15 a.m. EDT), Rosetta Spacecraft Operations Manager Andrea
Accomazzo confirmed that the probe had entered autonomous tracking mode
preparation for the flyby. The navigation camera was used to keep the
spacecraft pointed at Lutetia.
closest encounter occurred at approximately 1610 GMT (12:10 p.m. EDT),
Rosetta traveling at a relative speed of 32,400 mph (52,142 kph).
scientists were able to track Rosetta up to five minutes to closest
after which the radio signal with the probe was lost as the spacecraft
its antenna away from Earth and faces the asteroid instead.
approximately 40 minutes, a series of maneuvers restored the antenna's
lock, and the probe began successfully transmitting data and telemetry
its ground controllers once again.
scientists hope the observations from the Lutetia flyby will contribute
relatively small body of knowledge about
Unmasking Asteroid 21 Lutetia
close pass allowed Rosetta about two hours of observation time to
the asteroid Lutetia.
will continue beaming this data to Earth, and the first close-up
the quick visit are expected to be released later tonight. Preliminary
from ESA were released in the lead up to the encounter, showing Lutetia
larger and larger as Rosetta approached within about 49,700 miles
The data collected
from Rosetta's visit will provide valuable observations for asteroid
and will at least give scientists preliminary information that can then
corroborated through ground-based observations. And, the findings will
apply for Lutetia, but for other asteroids as well.
Rosetta is a European Space Agency- led robotic spacecraft mission launched in 2004, intended to
study the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is
intended to orbit the comet and place a lander upon it, in 2014. Rosetta
consists of two main elements: the Rosetta space probe and the Philae
lander. The spacecraft will also fly by and examine two asteroids ( 2867Steins & 21 Lutetia)
on its way to the comet.
The probe is named after the Rosetta
Stone, as it is hoped the mission will help unlock the secrets of
how our solar system looked before planets
formed. The lander is named after the Nile island Philae
where an obelisk
was found that helped decipher the Rosetta
The craft completed its third Earth fly-by in late 2009, and is
presently functioning and on-target for its final destination.
This is the planned timeline for the mission after its launch:
- First Earth flyby (March 4, 2005)
- Mars flyby (February 25, 2007)
- Second Earth flyby (November 13, 2007 )
- Flyby of asteroid 2867
Šteins (September 5, 2008)
- Third Earth flyby (November 13, 2009)
- Flyby of asteroid 21 Lutetia (July 10, 2010) - JUST OCCURRED - See the Article on 21 Lutetia BELOW the Rosetta article
- NEXT EVENTS:
- Deep-space hibernation (May 2011 - January 2014)
- Comet approach (January-May 2014)
- Comet mapping / Characterization (August 2014)
- Landing on the comet (November 2014)
- Escorting the comet around the Sun (November 2014 - December 2015)
Where is Rosetta now : http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Rosetta/SEMRZF1PGQD_0.html
During the 1986 apparition of the Comet Halley, a number of international space
probes were sent to explore the cometary system, most prominent among
them being ESA's highly successful Giotto. After the probes returned a treasure-trove of
valuable scientific information it was becoming obvious that follow-ons
were needed that would shed more light on the complex cometary
composition and resolve the newly opened questions.
and ESA started cooperatively developing new probes. The NASA project
was the Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby
mission. The ESA project was the follow-on Comet Nucleus Sample Return
(CNSR) mission. Both missions were to share the Mariner Mark II spacecraft design, thus minimizing costs. In
1992, after NASA axed CRAF due to budgetary limitations, ESA decided to
develop a CRAF-style project on its own. By 1993 it was evident that the
ambitious sample return mission was unfeasible with the existing ESA
budget, so the mission was redesigned, with the final flight plan
resembling the canceled CRAF mission, an asteroid flyby followed by a
comet rendezvous with in-situ examination, including a lander.
Rosetta was built in a clean room according to COSPAR rules, but "Sterilisation [was] generally
not crucial since comets are usually regarded as objects where you can
find prebiotic molecules, that is, molecules that are
precursors of life, but not living microorganisms,"
according to Gerhard Schwehm, Rosetta's Project
It was set to be launched on January 12, 2003 to rendezvous with the comet 46P/Wirtanen
Trajectory of the Rosetta Space Probe
However, this plan was abandoned after a failure of the planned
launch vehicle Ariane 5 on December 11, 2002. A new plan was
formed to target the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with launch on
February 26, 2004 and rendezvous in 2014. The larger mass and the
resulting increased impact velocity made modification of the landing
After two cancelled launch attempts, Rosetta was launched on March 2,
2004 at 7:17 GMT. Besides the changes made to launch time and
target, the mission profile remains almost identical.
The first flyby of Earth occurred on March 4, 2005.
On February 25, 2007, the craft was scheduled for a low-altitude
bypass of Mars,
to correct the trajectory after the first launch in 2003 was delayed by
one year. This was not without risk, as the estimated altitude of the
flyover manoeuvre was a mere 250 km (155 miles). During that encounter
the solar panels could not be used since the craft was in the planet's
shadow, where it would not receive any solar light for 15 minutes,
causing a dangerous shortage of power. The craft was therefore put into
standby mode, with no possibility to communicate, flying on batteries
that were originally not designed for this task.
This Mars manœuvre was therefore nicknamed "The Billion Dollar Gamble".
Fortunately, the flyby was successful and the mission now continues.
The second Earth flyby occurred on November 13, 2007.
The spacecraft performed a close flyby of asteroid 2867
Šteins on September 5, 2008. Its onboard cameras were used to
fine-tune the trajectory, achieving a minimum separation of less than
800 km (497 miles). Onboard instruments measured the asteroid from
August 4 to September 10. Maximum relative speed between the 2 objects
during the flyby was 8.6 km/s (19,240 mph).
Rosetta's third and final flyby of Earth happened on November 12,
The asteroid's orbit was known before Rosetta's launch, from
ground-based measurements, to an accuracy of approximately 100 km.
Information gathered by the onboard cameras beginning at a distance of
24 million km will be processed at ESA's Operation Center to refine the
asteroid's position in its orbit to a few km.
In May 2014, the Rosetta craft will enter a slow orbit around
the comet and gradually slow down in preparation for releasing a lander
that will make contact with the comet itself. The lander, named "Philae",
will approach Churyumov-Gerasimenko at relative speed around 1 m/s and
on contact with the surface, two harpoons
will be fired into the comet to prevent the lander from bouncing off.
Additional drills are used to further secure the lander on the comet.
Once attached to the comet, expected to take place in November 2014,
the lander will begin its science mission:
- Characterisation of the nucleus
- Determination of the chemical compounds present, including enantiomers
- Study of comet activities and developments over time
The exact surface layout of the comet is currently unknown and the
orbiter has been built to map this before detaching the lander. It is
anticipated that a suitable landing site can be found, although few
specific details exist regarding the surface.
Computer model of Rosetta probe
The spectroscopical investigation of the core is done by four
- ALICE (an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph). The UV spectrograph will search
for the abundance of noble gas in the comet core, from which the
temperature during the comet creation could be estimated. The detection
is done by an array of potassium bromide and caesium iodide photocathodes.
The 3.1 kg instrument uses 2.9 watts and was produced in the USA, and
an improved version is used in the New
- OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging
System). The camera system consisting of a narrow angle (700 mm) and a wide angle camera (140 mm), with an 2048x2048
pixel CCD chip each will take pictures of
the comets. The instrument was constructed in Germany.
- VIRTIS (Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer).
The Visible and IR spectrometer is able to make
pictures of the core in the IR and also search for IR spectra of
molecules in the coma. The detection is done by a mercury cadmium
teluride array for IR and with a CCD chip for the Visible range. The
instrument was produced in Italy, and improved versions were used for Dawn and Venus express.
- MIRO (Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter). With the
emissions the temperature and the abundance of volatile substances
(like water, ammonia and carbon dioxide) can be detected. The 30 cm
radio antenna was constructed in Germany, while the rest of the 18.5 kg
instrument was provided by the USA.
The radar tomography of the nucleus is performed by:
(Comet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission). The
CONSERT experiment is the only experiment on board the ROSETTA mission
which will provide information about the deep interior of the comet. The
will perform the tomography of the nucleus by measuring electromagnetic
wave propagation from the Philae
lander and the Rosetta orbiter throughout the comet nucleus in
order to determine its internal structures and to deduce information on
its composition. The lander and orbiter electronics was provided by
France and both antennas were constructed in Germany.
Gas and Particles
- ROSINA (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral
Analysis). The instrument consists a double focus magnetic mass spectrometer DFMS and a reflectron
type time of flight mass spectrometer RTOF. The
DFMS has a high resolution (can resolve N2
from CO) for molecules up to 300 amu. The RTOF is highly sensitive for neutral molecules and
- MIDAS (Micro-Imaging Dust Analysis System). The high
resolution atomic force
microscope will investigate the dust particles which are deposited
on a silicone plate.
- COSIMA (Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser). Composition of
dust particles is analysed, after the surface is cleaned by indium
ions, by secondary ion mass spectrometry.
Ions up to a mass of 4000 amu is possible.
- GIADA (Grain Impact Analyser and Dust Accumulator) 
- RPC (Rosetta Plasma Consortium).
Major Events and Discoveries
- March 2 – ESA's Rosetta mission is successfully launched at
07:17 GMT (08:17 Central European Time). The launcher successfully
placed its upper stage and payload into an eccentric coast orbit (200 x
4,000 km). About two hours later, at 09:14 GMT, the upper stage ignited
its own engine to reach an escape velocity in order to leave the Earth’s gravity
field and enter heliocentric orbit. The Rosetta probe was released 18
minutes later. ESA’s Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt,
Germany, established contact with the probe shortly after that.
- May 10 – The first and most important deep space maneuver was
successfully executed and brings the space craft on its correct course,
with a reported inaccuracy of 0.05%.
- March 4 – Rosetta executed its first planned close flyby of
Earth. The Moon and the Earth's magnetic field were used to test and
calibrate the instruments on board of the spacecraft. The minimum
altitude above the Earth's surface was about 1,954.7 km at 22:09 UTC and
images of the space probe passing by were captured by amateur
- July 4 – Imaging instruments on board observed the collision between
the comet Tempel 1 and the impactor of the Deep Impact
- February 25 – Mars swing-by. Philae's ROMAP (Rosetta Lander
Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor) instrument measures the complex Martian
while Rosetta's OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote
Imaging System) took various images of the planet using different photographic filters.
While in Mars' shadow most of the instruments were turned off the
Philae lander was autonomously running on batteries. During this
operation the ÇIVA instrument on the lander took pictures of Mars.
Among others, both actions were meant to test the spacecraft's
instruments while the probe needed the gravity of Mars to change directions in order to
undertake its second Earth flyby in November.
- November 8 – As Rosetta approached the Earth for its second flyby
scheduled for November 13, it was observed by a 0.68 meter telescope of
the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona
as a moving object on survey images from November 7 and its positions
were reported to the Minor Planet Center. After additional observations on
November 8 the Minor Planet Center misidentified the spacecraft as a Near Earth Object on a course that
would bring it within 0.89 earth radii from the surface of the Earth and
gave it the provisional
designation asteroid 2007 VN84. Following a suggestion on a news
group, the misidentification was corrected and the asteroid
designation was cancelled one hour and 16 minutes later.
- November 13 – Last swingby (gravity assist passage) of Earth. The
spacecraft is scheduled to make its closest approach (perigee passage)
at 2481 km altitude over 109°E and 8°S - just off the coast of the Indonesian
island of Java,
at 08:45 CET (07:45 UT).
as an Asteroid
In November, 2007, the Rosetta spacecraft was mistaken for a
dangerous near-Earth asteroid and given the designation 2007 VN84.
An astronomer 'discovered' the spacecraft and misidentified it as an asteroid
about 20 meters in diameter, and performed a trajectory calculation
showing that it would make its closest flyby of the Earth at a distance
of 5,700 kilometers on November 13, 2007. This extremely close approach
(in astronomical terms) led to speculation that 2007 VN84
might be at risk of impacting the Earth.
However, astronomer Denis Denisenko recognized that the trajectory matched
that of the Rosetta probe, which was performing a flyby of Earth en
route to its rendezvous with a comet.
The Minor Planet Center later confirmed in
an editorial release
that 2007 VN84 was actually the spacecraft.
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Skymania News | Space headlines:
'Deadly asteroid' is a spaceprobe
That's no near-Earth object, it's a
spaceship! - The Planetary Society Blog | The Planetary Society
MPEC 2007-V70 : EDITORIAL NOTICE
: European Space Agency
European Space Agency
| Comet/Asteroid missions
| Space exploration
| 2004 in space exploration
| Mars missions
| Active extraterrestrial
| 2004 in spaceflight
21 Lutetia is a large main
belt asteroid. It is an unusual form of M-type asteroid about 100 kilometers in diameter.
Lutetia derives from the Latin name
Lutetia will be the object of a flyby by the Rosetta space probe on 2010 July 10.
Discovery and Exploration
Lutetia was discovered on November 15, 1852 by Hermann Goldschmidt from the balcony of his apartment
There have been two reported stellar occultations
by Lutetia, observed from Malta in 1997 and Australia
in 2003, with only one chord each, roughly agreeing with IRAS
On July 10, 2010, the European Rosetta space
probe will pass Lutetia at a minimum distance of 3160 km and a
velocity of 15 kilometres per second on its way to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Lutetia will be the first M-type asteroid to be visited by a spacecraft.
The composition of Lutetia has puzzled astronomers for some time, and
investigation has picked up in recent years in anticipation of the
upcoming Rosetta flyby. While classified among the M-type asteroids, most of which are metallic, Lutetia is one of the anomalous
members that do not display much evidence of metal on their surface.
Indeed, there are various indications of a non-metallic surface: a flat,
low frequency spectrum similar to that of carbonaceous chondrites and C-type asteroids and not at all like that of metallic meteorites,
a low radar
unlike the high albedos of strongly metallic asteroids like 16
evidence of hydrated materials on its
and a thicker regolith than most asteroids.
Lightcurve analysis indicates that Lutetia is a
rough sphere with "sharp and irregular shape features" and that its pole points
toward either ecliptic coordinates (β, λ) =
(3°, 40°) or (β, λ) = (3°, 220°) with a 10° uncertainty.
This gives an axial tilt of 85°, or 89°, respectively, meaning
that Lutetia spins at an approximately right
angle to the ecliptic, like the planet Uranus.
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