Asteroid Lutetia as viewed by the Rosetta spacecraft on July 10, 2010.
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Image courtesy of ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.
Rosetta Flyby of Asteroid Lutetia
Rosetta is a European space probe that was launched in March 2004. Its primary mission is to rendevous with and land on a comet in November 2014. Along the way it has flown by two asteroids. On July 10, 2010 it flew by an asteroid named Lutetia.
Lutetia is the largest asteroid visited by a spacecraft to date. This non-spherical asteroid has an average diameter of 96 km (60 miles). Rosetta sent some highly detailed images, as well lots of other data, back to Earth. The composition of Lutetia is a bit of a mystery; astronomers hope that some of Rosetta's data might shed some light on this puzzle.
Rosetta passed within 3,160 km (1,964 miles) of the asteroid while travelling at a speed of 15 km/s (9 miles/sec or more than 33,000 mph). Lutetia orbits in the main asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Previously Rosetta flew by asteroid Steins in September 2008. After its flyby of Lutetia, Rosetta is continuing on its long journey to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If successful, Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to land on a comet.
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