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Monday, 2 July 2012

Video of Earths ancestor.....

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I have to be brief today, but I couldn't resit posting this:

Rosetta team unveil more footage of Lutetia: 

Video above: Sit on Rosetta's shoulder as it dive bombs the huge asteroid Lutetia. Video courtesy of ESA.

In 2010 the ESA space probe Rosetta [1] flew past asteroid Lutetia, which had been bothering astronomers for a while: The 120 km long piece of rock couldn't be pinned down as either a C class asteroid (carbon rich, lightly altered) or M-class asteroid (metal rich, heavily altered, probably part of a protoplanets molten core), by observations from Earth.

It turns out that Lutetia is in a class of its own: A true solar system building block, a possible ancestor of Earth, with ambitions to become a teeny planet.

Rosetta - which is set to reach the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko [2] in 2014, and put a lander on the surface - got an amazingly detailed record of the encounter, and scientists are still chewing over the results. The verdict is that Lutetia is a stony object [3], similar to enstatite chondrite meteorites [4]. The huge rock seems to have been one of the original building blocks of the terrestrial planets, forming close to the Sun (perhaps even closer than Mercurys orbit), then being booted out to the asteroid belt, where it has waited for the last four billion years.

And the big rock has an even more unexpected side to its past: Lutetia may have melted [5] in the middle, due to the action of short lived radioactive isotopes, like aluminium 26 [6]. That's something of a revelation to planetary geologists, as we've never found signs of active geology on an object so small.

But the video above is pure eye candy: It's the real colour set of images taken by Rosetta as it thundered in to its closest approach.. The huge, complicated, space rock looms out of the black, like the bad-guy alien ship in so many sci-fi movies, and shows it's...not prettiest side... lets go with 'most interesting side.... to the passing spaceship.

The idea that something as small as Lutetia could have had an active, molten, inside is awesome. What's so great about being round anyway...?  

And just to whet your appetites for 2014: Here's an ESA video on their cometary science over the last twenty five years:

Video above: Twenty five years of cometary science at ESA. Although the cast are a bit less cool than in the movies Deep Impact or Armageddon. And Paris doesn't get swatted by a comet chunk. Video courtesy of ESA.

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