PARIS, Aug. 11 (UPI) — A European space probe has captured stunning images of a space rock that raise more questions about asteroids than they answer, scientists say.
Unique angles and strange surface features of the asteroid Lutetia were photographed by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft in a flyby recently, SPACE.com reported Tuesday.
Lutetia, at about 62 miles wide, is the largest asteroid yet visited by a spacecraft — and a strange one, scientists say.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Claudia Alexander, project scientist for the U.S. Rosetta Project, says. “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.”
The surface of Lutetia also looks odd, she says, as if large boulders had been rolling over it.
“If that is indeed what we’re seeing, the question becomes: What could have caused the rolling?” Alexander said. “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.”
Astronomers have been studied Lutetia — of the largest asteroids in the solar system — for years. It reflects light in a pattern unlike any other asteroid that has been studied, they say.
“Right now we have more questions than answers,” Alexander said. “We can only speculate at this point about what we’re seeing in the pictures.”
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.