Rosetta sends back gorgeous asteroid closeups

By Phil Plait | July 13, 2010 7:00 am

The European space probe Rosetta passed about 3000 km from the asteroid Lutetia on Saturday, July 10, 2010, and it sent back incredible closeup images of the rock. Check ’em out below!


Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society Blog has more details, as always.

Related posts:

Rosetta takes some home pictures
Rosetta swings past home one final time
Rosetta swings by Mars

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: asteroid, ESA, Lutetia, Rosetta

Comments (40)

  1. Groovy! 😀

    Off Topic: Vote to get Dr. Plait on Mythbusters with his close personal friend™!

  2. So, when do we get the video of the approach images in sequence? :-)

  3. Amazing. Does anyone know how far away Saturn is relative to Lutetia in that last photo?

  4. Squeaky Woo Woo

    Like a great big lump of crunchy honeycomb. Great pics.

  5. Dawn

    Bah. Can’t see any of your pictures at work anymore since my employer hasn’t updated our internet access from IE6. :(

    Guess I’ll have to wait till I get home.

  6. That last photo looks like someone must have photoshopped it! It is so amazing! Way cool.

  7. Pepijn Schmitz

    Amazing pictures!

    “Also, had they formed after, the impact would have eradicated them.” I think that’s wrong. Don’t you mean: “Also, had they formed *before*, the impact would have eradicated them.”?

  8. Greg in Austin

    Nice post Phil.

    You should write a book!


  9. @3. Justin: About 50 miles. Lutetia is HUGE!!! :)

  10. A Saturn photobomb, from 22,000 miles away!

    Amazing photos.

  11. Yes, Pepijn (6) you’re right, thanks. I fixed that.

  12. Lee

    On a completely unrelated note, I hope everyone sees today’s xkcd.

  13. magetoo

    Technobabble alert:

    I think the “alt” and “title” attributes for these images have been swapped. When I mouse-over, I see what should probably bee the alt texts; “Lutetia closeup”, etc, but if I turn images off or view source I see that there is a whole novel attached to each one. (This is with Opera 9.)

    Or is this to be backwards-compatible with old IE versions? I seem to recall that they had it the other way around…


  15. Shoeshine Boy

    Have they determined if it is class “c” or class “m”?

  16. @kuhnigget

    totally, considering how small saturn is compared to it…i mean just look…

  17. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    @magetoo: Thanks for the heads-up. We’ll look into that. The gallery is backwards-compatible with old IE versions through 7.0, not 6.x. The “alt” and “title” tags should be working the standard way.

  18. magetoo

    For what it’s worth, this is what it looks like for someone who doesn’t load images. (which is who would normally see the alt text, remember) The in-alt-text links are especially challenging…

  19. magetoo

    Amos: That was quick! Thanks for the response.

    I just wanted to add that in this case, perhaps the longer texts should go in the page itself, below the images, rather than as mouseover popups (or that’s how it seems to be intended to me anyway, with the links and all). Don’t know who to blame, in other words. :)

    Okay, threadjack over. (Sorry, folks.)

  20. Scott B

    There any consensus out there about these grooves we’re seeing on asteroids? It seems like the majority (all?) of the asteroids we’ve taken high res photos of have them. These photos would suggest whatever caused them came after the impact crater which probably means it’s not related to their formation process.

  21. ND

    That saturn shot is just awesome. The things you can do with photoshop 😉

    Death to IE6!!! The bastard child of the browser wars.

  22. The last two in particular are absolutely mind blowing. I’m going to make an animated .gif from that “contact sheet.” Thanks!

  23. Jason

    You can’t see any stars in the background. This is clearly a hoax. Just like the “moon landing” and “evolution” and “round earth”

    Totally kidding, of course. :-p

  24. Dave

    “Note the elongated crater near the bottom (left of center); was that from a nearly horizontal impact? It’s curious that it points almost directly to the crater to the left. That may just be coincidence”

    … Evidence of Lutetians.

  25. Chris

    Phil, why is it (and asteroids in general) so smooth? I would have expected jaggedness from the impacts. Does the constant barrage of impacts smooth out the edges? For the large scale smoothness (lumpiness rather than jaggedness) is that from high heat collisions?

  26. Dawn

    @ND (21): I would love to kill IE6 (I use Firefox at home) but our IT guys at work like it. Don’t know if it’s a cost/licensing issue or just the desire to not have to deal with pushing out the update.

  27. KC

    Great stuff – congrats to the Rosetta Team and ESA! You guys rock!…er Asteroid!

  28. ND


    That’s an ongoing problem with customers and their IT department. An entrenched IE6 install base that needs to be supported. I think there should be a surcharge for supporting IE6 in products. Some sort of IE6 tax. If it’s feasible that might do the trick.

    IE6. The passion of the hate.

  29. Chris @ 25: I think you expect “jaggedness” because you think a big lump of rock. If instead you think a barely-held-together pile of regolith and fines, then you would expect quite smooth features – in somewhat contrast to what was “predicted”/”envisioned” by Armageddon… Phil, your review of Ar$*”ged&#n is number 7 in a Google search…
    Cheers, Regner

  30. Chris

    Thanks Regner, after a few google searches on that, I understand it much better now.

  31. ByJove

    The grooves are a puzzle, aren’t they? When it was just Phobos, I thought they might have somehow resulted from tidal stresses. Now I’m left scratching my noggin.

  32. In the last photo Saturn’s like “hey guys, what’s up?”.

  33. Dawn

    Yay! At home so I can see the pix. Gorgeous! I love looking at the awesome pictures Phil posts!

    @ND. Death to IE6 indeed!

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    Excellent. :-)

    This is the largest asteroid and earliest numbered (I think) we’ve seen so far. Always fantastic and fascinating to a see a new world – even a minor planet – up close for the first time. :-)

    Wonder if humans will ever land on, perhaps even settle on this rock? I hope so.

    @31. ByJove Says:

    The grooves are a puzzle, aren’t they? When it was just Phobos, I thought they might have somehow resulted from tidal stresses. Now I’m left scratching my noggin.

    Well, just because Lutetia is *currently* alone in middle of the asteroid belt doesn’t mean it has *always* been orbiting there and maybe in Lutetia’s distant past it passed close to a planet or protoplanet?

    That might’ve happened even in the region that is now the asteroid belt – Ceres was forming into a planet before its formation was disrupted by Jupiter and so were Vesta and some of the other larger worlds. Maybe even Lutetia itself was a much more major planet before being broken apart and turned into a minor planet (albeit a fairly major minor planet! 😉 ) in collisions with other asteroids?

    Or perhaps the groovy features arise through impact? Just a few thoughts.

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    To answer (#3.) Justin Ogleby’s question :

    Amazing. Does anyone know how far away Saturn is relative to Lutetia in that last photo?

    I do very approximately.

    Lutetia orbits from between 2.0 to 2.8 Astronomical Units or AU.

    Saturn orbits at 9 and a half AU.

    Now one Astronomical Unit is the distance between the Earth and our Sun which is 149,597,870 kilometers or almost 93 million miles or 499 lightseconds. (Call it 150 million km and 500 light seconds rounded up.)

    So if we say Lutetia is at 2.5 AU in the foreground with Saturn in the background at 9.5 AU then the distance between them is 7 AU or ten thousand and fifty million kilometers or 3,500 light seconds – if my maths (which I warn you is poor – & I didn’t have my calculator handy for this!) is right. Feel free to cross check and let me know if I’ve got it wrong or if anyone else knows it more precisely.

    I’ll leave it to someone else to work out the figure in miles. 😉

    Sources :
    Daintith, John & Gould, William, ‘Collins internet-linked Dictionary of Astronomy’, Collins, 2006 [figure in km & light seconds]
    Maddison, Dr Robert, ‘A Dictionary of Astronomy’, Hamlyn, 1980. [Figure in miles.] &
    Wikipedia – 21 Lutetia page :


    PS. I tried to post this comment earlier with the wiki-link to Lutetia under my “website” box in the form so that folks could click on my name for the link & NOT have it go into moderation but that hasn’t come through. Why?! That technique has worked before – why this time, has something changed & why does the BA’s spam filter seem to give me grief? Sorry if this comes through twice. :-(

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. Thanks to the Rosetta team and the Bad Astronomer for this. :-)

  37. Funny thing about the Lutetia+Saturn image is the APOD that was available a day later:

    With a bit of imagination, it’s almost as if the Lutetia image was taken with a fisheye lens, and this other shot taking from exactly the other side using a telelens.

    It isn’t of course, the APOD one is a Saturnian moon, and the lighting wouldn’t fit, but it’s still a funny coincidence.

  38. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    I always wanted to see the Rosetta stone.

  39. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Looks like an ancient Egyptian looking up to the right.

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Charles J. Slavis, Jr. : Apt. 😉

    Wonder what they’ll name some of the craters and features on Lutetia assuming that happens?

    One other thing I meant to note earlier – does anyone else think Lutetia looks almost rounded by its own gravity – more in some shots than others?

    It makes me think it could be like a quarter of a sphere – perhaps a proto-planetary world that was split in four fragments just as it was almost formed?


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