Asteroid Lutetia, witness to Earth’s birth

Researchers studying asteroid Lutetia have found that it could be a fragment of the same material that originally formed Earth.

lutetia HEADER

Asteroid Lutetia formed from the same material as Mercury, Venus and Earth. Image Credit: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Advertisement

Researchers studying asteroid 21 Lutetia have found that it could be a fragment of the same material that originally formed Earth.

The team of astronomers from French and American Universities used data from several sources to come up with the most complete spectrum of an asteroid’s composition ever assembled.

The results were startling.

The properties of asteroid Lutetia closely match those of certain meteorites found on Earth that are believed to have formed in the inner Solar System.

Lutetia shares the make-up of material that formed Earth, as well as Mercury and Venus.

Using data from the OSIRIS camera on ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft, ESO’s New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii and the Spitzer Space Telescope to study Lutetia, the team determined that only one type of meteorite – enstatite chondrites – has properties that match the asteroid.

Enstatite chondrites date from the early Solar System.

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.

Looking to explain its location, researchers theorised that at about 100km across, Lutetia could have drastically changed its orbit through an encounter with one of the inner planets.

Advertisement

The young Jupiter could then have dragged it into its current position in the asteroid belt between Mars and the gas giant.