Under Rosetta’s scope
This is not Rosetta’s first look at Steins. Over two years ago, in March 2006, the Osiris camera onboard Rosetta observed the brightness variations of this rotating asteroid from a distance of 159 million kilometres (a little over the distance between Earth and the Sun), and was able to determine that the tiny asteroid spins around its axis in about six hours.Together with the two navigation cameras onboard, Osiris was again pointed towards Steins on 4 August and continued to observe the asteroid until 4 September, in order to assist Rosetta’s navigation by optical means – a first in the history of ESA spacecraft operations. A few days before the flyby, most of the Rosetta orbiter instruments, as well as the Philae lander magnetometer, were switched on to collect science data on the asteroid, with ever-increasing accuracy as the spacecraft closed in on it.Rosetta’s powerful instruments have initially been focusing on the asteroid’s orbital motion, rotation, shape and density. As the distance has diminished, the investigation has broadened to take in the observation of surface properties and features, and the analysis of the chemical and mineralogical composition of the terrains, as well as their relative ages and the effects of the solar wind on the surface.At its closest approach, Rosetta flew by Steins at a relative speed of 8.6 km/s. To keep the small asteroid in the field of view of its instruments, the spacecraft had to perform a rapid and highly demanding rotation manoeuvre, which had been successfully rehearsed in March this year.A preliminary analysis of the first data from the flyby was presented to the press at ESOC at 12:00 CEST today.