New Cassini images of asteroid Masursky
14 February 2000New images taken by the camera onboard the Saturn-bound Cassini spacecraft are giving scientists the first size estimates on asteroid 2685 Masurskyand preliminary evidence that it may have different material propertiesthan previously believed, NASA reports.
"The Masursky images represent the first time that Cassini has gathered information on a body not extensively studied from Earth," said Carolyn C. Porco, Cassini imaging team leader and associate professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory of the University of Arizona, Tucson.
The images, taken on 23 January, also marked the first use of Cassini's automated object-targeting capabilities, and they functioned as expected, Porco said.
Cassini/Huygens is currently en route to flyby Jupiter in December. It entered the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, a region populated by asteroids, in mid-November of 1999.
Cassini's camera took pictures of the asteroid when the spacecraft was seven and five and a half hours before closest approach, at a distance of 1.6 million kilometres. Since Masursky is too small to be measured from Earth, scientists hoped Cassini could help them determine its size, as well as its reflectivity, asteroid category, and possibly its rotation period.
"So far, the images reveal that the side of Masursky imaged by Cassini is roughly 15 to 20 kilometres across," Porco said.
Cassini/Huygens is a joint programme of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The Cassini orbiter, built by NASA, and the Huygens probe, provided by ESA, were mated together and launched as a single package from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 15 October 1997, by a Titan 4-B rocket. ASI provided Cassini's high-gain antenna.
Cassini/Huygens will enter orbit around Saturn on 1 July 2004. The Huygens probe will separate from Cassini to parachute through the atmosphere to the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in November that year.