London, July 11 (ANI): ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has flown past asteroid Lutetia, providing valuable data to scientists.
Lutetia - nearly 120km in its longest dimension - is the biggest asteroid yet visited by a space probe.
Images show Lutetia is quite irregular in shape, its surface scarred by numerous wide impact craters and even some intriguing grooves.
"It's a new world discovered by Rosetta and it will keep scientists busy for years," The BBC quoted Holger Sierks, the principal investigator on the spacecraft's Osiris camera system, as saying.
Professor David Southwood, the European Space Agency's director of science, said: "The pictures are majestic; they take my breath away.
"It is an historic day, Europe once again proving it can do major steps in Solar System exploration. Everything worked like clockwork. It really was picture perfect."Dr Rita Schulz, the Rosetta project scientist, said: "It has an interesting surface and from the look of it, I would say it is more of a C-type asteroid - but we can't really say anything yet."We must wait for the infrared data. This will be the key I think in understanding this asteroid."
Almost all the instruments aboard the Rosetta were switched on for a period of several hours around its closest approach to Lutetia (1544 GMT on Saturday)).
The probe took about 400 images as it flew by the asteroid at 15km/s, and with each picture taking nearly 10 minutes to reach the Earth it will be some days before scientists receive all the data.
Researchers hope to go public with their preliminary findings at the Europlanet conference in Rome, Italy, in late September. (ANI)