The European Space Agency has obtained the first images of an asteroid 360 million km. Scientists hope these photos will help them understand the origins of the planets. Through the study of minor space objects, like asteroids, Rosetta is opening up a new window into the early history of the solar system. Also, with more knowledge, scientists hope to lower the chances of asteroids becoming a threat to earth.
The images were transmitted by Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft which completed its flyby of the Steins asteroid, in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Steins was the first target for Rosetta in its more than eleven year mission to explore the nucleus of a far away comet. Rosetta was launched in March 2004. Since then, it has travelled about 3.7 thousand million km.
The ESA said the images showed several small craters on the asteroid and two huge ones, one of which is 2 km in diameter, indicating the asteroid must be very old. Steins is a small asteroid of irregular shape with a diameter of only 4.6 km. It belongs to a type of asteroid which probably came from larger asteroids destroyed in the early history of the solar system. They are believed to be composed mainly of silicate minerals with little or no iron content.