11 Jul 2010

Space probe in rendezvous with massive asteroid

2:50 pm on 11 July 2010

A European space probe on a mission to find out more about the origins of the solar system and its planets has flown past a distant asteroid, named Lutetia, returning a stream of scientific data for analysis.

The Rosetta's encounter with Lutetia occurred 454 million km from Earth, beyond the orbit of Mars.

The huge rock - about 120km in its longest dimension - is the biggest asteroid yet visited by a satellite. The craft flew past to gather data and take high resolution pictures.

The photographs show Lutetia to be quite irregular in shape, its surface marked by several wide impact craters and even some intriguing grooves, the BBC reports.

The European Space Agency's director of science, David Southwood, says: "The pictures are majestic; they take my breath away".

Information sent by the probe will tell scientists how much material Lutetia contains from the formation of the solar system.