ESA Gets Ready for an Asteroid Flyby

PARIS, June 15 (UPI) — The European Space Agency says it’s preparing for its spacecraft Rosetta’s flyby of asteroid Lutetia, approaching within 2,000 miles of the space rock.

The July 10 encounter will allow scientists about two hours of good imaging and that is important, the ESA said, because no one knows what Lutetia looks like.

“Orbiting in the main belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, it appears as a single point of light to ground telescopes,” the space agency said. Estimates of Lutetia’s size range from about 60 miles in diameter to approximately 80 miles.

The ESA said planetary scientists Lutetia is a ‘C-type’ asteroid, which means it contains primitive compounds of carbon. However, some measurements suggest Lutetia is a ‘M-type,’ which could mean there are metals in its surface.

“If Lutetia is a metallic asteroid then we have found a real winner,” ESA Rosetta Project Scientist Rita Schula said, because metallic asteroids are thought to be fragments of the metallic core of larger asteroids that have since been shattered into pieces.

If Lutetia is made of metal or even contains large amounts of metal, Schula says the traditional asteroid classification scheme will need rethinking.

The space agency says asteroid science stands to gain once that observational conundrum is resolved because Rosetta’s data will provide a valuable collection of “ground truths” that can be used to resolve conflicting ground-based observations, not just for Lutetia but for other asteroids as well.

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