Asteroid Lutetia found to be rare survivor of Earth's birth

   Nov 12, 5:25 pm

Washington, Nov 12 (ANI): The asteroid Lutetia is a leftover fragment of the same original material that formed the Earth, Venus and Mercury, new studies have suggested.

Astronomers have combined data from ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, ESO's New Technology Telescope, and NASA telescopes and found that the properties of the asteroid closely match those of a rare kind of meteorites found on Earth and thought to have formed in the inner parts of the Solar System.

A team of astronomers from French and North American universities have studied the unusual asteroid in detail at a very wide range of wavelengths to deduce its composition.

Data from the OSIRIS camera on ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, ESO's New Technology Telescope (NTT) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii and Spitzer Space Telescope were combined to create the most complete spectrum of an asteroid ever assembled.

This spectrum was then compared with that of meteorites found on Earth that have been extensively studied in the laboratory and only one type of meteorite, enstatite chondrites, was found to have properties that matched Lutetia over the full range of colours.

Enstatite chondrites are known to be material that dates from the early Solar System, and they are thought to have formed close to the young Sun and to have been a major building block in the formation of the rocky planets, in particular the Earth, Venus and Mercury.

"But how did Lutetia escape from the inner Solar System and reach the main asteroid belt?" Pierre Vernazza (ESO), the lead author of the paper, said.

Astronomers have estimated that less than 2 percent of the bodies located in the region where Earth formed, ended up in the main asteroid belt, but most of the bodies of the inner Solar System disappeared after a few million years as they were incorporated into the young planets that were forming.

However, some of the largest, with diameters of about 100 kilometres or more, were ejected to safer orbits further from the Sun.

Lutetia, which is about 100 kilometres across, may have been tossed out from the inner parts of the young Solar System if it passed close to one of the rocky planets and thus had its orbit dramatically altered.

An encounter with the young Jupiter during its migration to its current orbit could also account for the huge change in Lutetia's orbit.

"We think that such an ejection must have happened to Lutetia. It ended up as an interloper in the main asteroid belt and it has been preserved there for four billion years," Vernazza said. (ANI)

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