DARMSTADT: The European deep space probe Rosetta completed a flyby of an asteroid millions of kilometres from the earth, but its high- resolution camera stopped before the closest pass, space officials said on Saturday.
Rosetta caught up with the Steins asteroid, also known as Asteroid 2867, just after 18-45 GMT on Friday in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The probe came within 800 km of the asteroid.
Officials at the European Space Agency were not sure exactly what caused the camera to balk. “The software switched off automatically,” said Gerhard Schwehm, mission manager at ESA.
Another wide angle camera was able to take pictures and send them to the space center, Mr. Schwehm said. The Rosetta craft was launched in March 2004 from French Guyana, and is now about 402 million km from the earth. The 4.6-km diameter, irregularly shaped Steins Asteroid is being studied for keys that could help unlock some of the mysteries about the creation of the solar system. “Dead rocks can say a lot,” Mr. Schwehm said.
Up until now, astronomers analysing asteroids have had to work with limited data from brief flybys, such as when the ESA’s Giotto probe swept by Halley’s Comet in 1986, photographing long canyons, broad craters and 3,000-foot hills. — AP
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