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Two ESA Craft To Observe Asteroid 21 Lutetia

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the like-a-potato-in-the-sky dept.

Space 25

japan_dan writes "Two ESA spacecraft will observe 21 Lutetia during Rosetta's flyby on 10 July: Rosetta from 3,160 km and Herschel from 450 million km. Herschel's PACS and SPIRE spectrometers will view Lutetia in far infrared, while Rosetta will gather data in a variety of wavelengths. Since the observations will be coordinated during and at closest approach, scientists will later be able to correlate the data to produce a map of the thermal radiation emitted by Lutetia. There are a pair of animations modelling the expected temperature distribution over Lutetia at the link. The joint observations are part of a series of 8 sessions planned in the next couple of years by Herschel scientists to study objects that will be visited by spacecraft."

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21 eh? (3, Funny)

thijsh (910751) | about 4 years ago | (#32851792)

I would love to see those sweet pictures...

Re:21 eh? (1)

KarrdeSW (996917) | about 4 years ago | (#32851920)

I would love to see those sweet pictures...

Asteroids are so much hotter once they can drink legally.

It's too bad that Lutetia still can't rent a car...

Slippery slope (1)

openfrog (897716) | about 4 years ago | (#32853012)

As a kid, he tried to observe Lutetia, who was just an asteroid, and dreamed of becoming an astronomer with a big telescope. He then moved to starlets, and he finally ended up as a paparazzi.

Amazing (2, Insightful)

Inspirius (1589201) | about 4 years ago | (#32851956)

Is anyone else continuously amazed that we can observe events like this from 450 million km away? The precision that must be required to see something relatively small, going so fast and so far away.

Re:Amazing (1)

olsmeister (1488789) | about 4 years ago | (#32852456)

I am more amazed by double and triple rainbows...

Re:Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32852514)

And I'm even more amamazed by a good pr0n movie :-)

it's a miracle! (2, Funny)

Thud457 (234763) | about 4 years ago | (#32853314)

fuckin' magnets, how do they work?

Re:Amazing (2, Insightful)

Robotron23 (832528) | about 4 years ago | (#32852576)

I share your amazement, and the notion you mentioned can be extended to everyday matters too.

A friend of mine had to get permission for use of an image from a fellow in Arizona recently, she being in Britain (as am I). The fellow granted permission the same afternoon, which for some reason got me thinking about all the headache the Internet takes away with communication. That same thing would have taken closer to two weeks pre-Internet, and the time and cost would be higher.

Hubble's images are just the same; some are vivid and beautiful, and even more have merit for science and astronomy. Hubble has in the past been focused on certain phenomena and has photographed them continuously over hours or days; if this counts of observance (albeit infrequently updated), then it's all the more amazing because we're talking distances of light years, not millions of kilometres. This distance was impossible even 30 or 40 years ago.

The only thing I personally find dismaying about all this amazing progress is the sheer ignorance of the majority towards it. An ordinary person might remark on it all from time to time ('It's great the stuff we have nowadays.") but few have a geniunely appreciative interest or a will to somehow contribute. The men responsible for all this stuff have always been and will be for the foreseeable future, a minescule minority.

Re:Amazing (1)

boristdog (133725) | about 4 years ago | (#32853438)

Well it is asteroid "Lutetia" which was the Roman name for the city of Paris, and Paris IS the "City of Light"

So of course we can see it!

-yeah, it's a stretch.

Herschel "Observes" from 3 AU? (2, Insightful)

cmholm (69081) | about 4 years ago | (#32857272)

Herschel will "observe" the asteroid from 450 million km, or about 3 AU. While I'm sure useful science will come from it, to say that it's participating in an observation with Rosetta's actual closeup flyby seems analogous to saying I'm participating in measurements from my roof.

Asteroid as candidates for commodities (2, Interesting)

Robotron23 (832528) | about 4 years ago | (#32852098)

I spotted a post on Slashdot a couple of weeks ago which pointed out a couple of advantages of exploring the asteroid belt as a rich source of minerals and possible mining. On this strength of that brief but well worded comment I did some research myself and right now I'm currently reading the only book I could find that seemed accessible enough to a person with limited knowledge of space mining and the possibilities therein: (Mining the Sky by John S. Lewi). This as opposed to planets or moons which carry with them an atmosphere. Most of the prime candidates there possess thick atmospheres that carry a massive burden of cost for any robotic or manned mission to bring back much of anything for purposes of study or (looking further ahead) economic purposes.

Asteroids by definition lack atmosphere, being in layman's terms large rocks with a pretty huge size variance. Anyone who has read Greg Bear's Eon will be able to appreciate the magnitude of some of the bigger asteroids. With present-day technology, were the funding and the will present we could in two or three decades time extract dozens of kilos of material from an asteroid and, though risk would be a factor, ferry all of that back to Earth. That's hundreds of kilos of precious material if an initial group of say ten were launched. However speaking realistically giving the sheer amount of difficulty space has had in recent decades, plus other projects eating up chunks of NASA/ESA/Roscosmos/JAXA budget, we're looking at much lower amounts. That we have publicly funded projects as opposed to privately spearheaded initiatives in the present day doesn't help; space agencies do not seek to maximize monetary profit.

A small asteroid typically contains trillions of dollars in valuable metals. It doesn't take a genius to infer that investment in research leading to the mining of these bodies could make a profit. The return on capital employed (ROCE) would be unusually long...and that risk understandably puts off a lot of potential investment - it needs to be done on a fairly impressive scale, proven and reported by mass media for the ROCE ratio to improve. Valuable metals that have steady demand or even rising demand in some cases especially with China, India and Brazil developing as they are, could receive supplies from relatively cheap, unmanned drills. If prices of say...platinum and titanium keep rising and the private sector begins to take the helm from the clumsy, bungled pork-heavy governments I daresay asteroid mining would appear economically feasible to private enterprise in a generation.

Finally; the technology developed for mining asteroids would - just like lots of other space tech - have applications on Earth too. It'd be diverse to the point where we can't envision with accuracy all the technology could come of this kind of venture that would benefit humanity wholesale.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#32852322)

A small asteroid typically contains trillions of dollars in valuable metals.

This is incorrect. If you dumped several times as much gold as ever has been mined in current human history, you aren't going to get market price for it. How much those asteroids will be worth will depend on how much people are willing to pay for what is delivered. We simply don't have a viable economic model for the resources of one or more asteroids being sold on a market.

I favor the idea that this could lead to industry using the metals with the best physical properties with little price differentiation between materials (perhaps price being more dependent on amount of demand or energy cost of the material). For example, gold probably would be applied to a lot more things than it currently is. Building wiring could be made out of gold instead of copper or aluminum, simply because gold has the lowest resistance of room-temperature wiring. A gold/copper alloy (or gold-plated copper) might be the best choice for plumbing (due to gold's corrosion resistance, platinum is another choice here). Gold plating would be an option for metal roofs, car parts (which don't experience significant wear), fences, hulls of ships, antennas, and general electronics.

Point is that any planning today to mine an asteroid has to take into account a lot more risks than one would first expect. There are various ways to deal with them. One is to nail down the risks (say through trial and error). Second, is to make it so cheap that you still could run a viable business even with huge risks. Third is to acquire a stream of government or other public funds so that someone else sucks up the risk and cost for you.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | about 4 years ago | (#32852724)

Who says the minerals have to be returned to Earth's surface? Asteroid mining opens up construction in orbit of much larger space stations and vessels, and would allow the work towards a possible generation colony ship to another solar system. Returning the materials to Earth's surface just seems to be a waste of energy as we already have most of what we need here. Building a viable space station or moon base is worth way more.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#32852834)

Who says the minerals have to be returned to Earth's surface?

That's currently the market to consume such resources.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | about 4 years ago | (#32854472)

Returning the materials to Earth's surface just seems to be a waste of energy as we already have most of what we need here. Building a viable space station or moon base is worth way more.

Only if building it in orbit is cheaper than building it on the surface and launching it. No gravity and no atmosphere are huge hindrances to construction.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32852830)

Although I like what you wrote, you misunderstood my post:

I stated that initially, the likely yield would be low - it might only be a few kilograms. Although I'd expect growth would be close to or at exponential levels following the first success, the time and quantities involved make 'dumping' as you say very unlikely in our lifetimes. Relative to the mining that occurs on Earth year after year it is likely going to take space-based mining a long, long time to catch up and thereby influence the market to the point of diminishing prices to the point of significantly affecting the market and impeding margins.

Also asteroids contain a smorgasbord of materials much of the time, and in a globalized world conglomerates in mining deal in several metals and/or minerals. It doesn't seem unreasonable for a firm to determine (with some risk due to market fluctuation) what group of metals to harvest from a given asteroid in each mission, respectively.

Even though what you say is strictly true because according to supply and demand every kilogram of material X entering a market alters it, same as quantities of stock on the market alters a company's price...the fact is that for space mining to diminish value of metals below the 'trillions per small asteroid' figure I quoted it would take a lot of mining and time. We probably won't be around to see such a dramatic drop in precious metals rates. Much like the oil market, the market for precious metals is (though to a lesser extent) carefully controlled by suppliers and firms to the optimum point of profit; if that means stockpiling supplies at a given time then that option is commonly taken.

Oh yeah; the University of Toronto science faculty says there's a very good chance [sciencedaily.com] that some of our precious metals here on Earth came from comets, meteorites and so on. So in a way we've already begun mining them.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (2, Interesting)

Robotron23 (832528) | about 4 years ago | (#32852922)

That post was mine by the way (Robotron23) - for the second time either Slashdot 2.0 or myself has checked the Anonymous posting box.

To make this post worthwhile...we'd probably have to attach some sort of legislation when asteroid mining becomes feasible. Something along the lines of a scientific analysis, due to the massive wealth of historical information these bodies hold on the early history of our solar system. I once heard a theory that the asteroid belt was actually once a planet...but Jupiter's gravity pulled it into fragments. Evidence of such an event would be valuable in a scientific capacity.

It's pretty sad when topics like this come along and the discussion on Slashdot is so minimal; I grew up on Heinlein, Clarke, PKD, Foundation series and all those greats; topics like ESA's analysis of 21 Lutetia are prime news for nerds. Long after Apple or Microsoft or anything else we talk about so much are dead and gone...all these things will still be up there, as will all the mystery.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | about 4 years ago | (#32854882)

Building wiring could be made out of gold instead of copper or aluminum, simply because gold has the lowest resistance of room-temperature wiring. A gold/copper alloy (or gold-plated copper) might be the best choice for plumbing (due to gold's corrosion resistance, platinum is another choice here). Gold plating would be an option for metal roofs, car parts (which don't experience significant wear), fences, hulls of ships, antennas, and general electronics.

Gold is over twice as dense as copper or steel. That much weight could be an issue in a lot of those applications, particularly roofing. There's a reason why we use very thin metal roofing material: weight. Adding even a very thin layer of gold to that could have a negative impact on weight constraints. Also, gold is highly malleable, which is bad for any parts that are load-bearing or sustain impact events.

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32856010)

Building wiring could be made out of gold instead of copper or aluminum, simply because gold has the lowest resistance of room-temperature wiring.

No it doesn't. Silver is the metal with the lowest resistance (1.58e-8 ohm-m), followed by copper (1.68e-8 ohm-m). Gold comes in third (2.44e-8 ohm-m), only slightly ahead of aluminum (2.82e-8 ohm-m).

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#32858236)

No it doesn't. Silver is the metal with the lowest resistance (1.58e-8 ohm-m), followed by copper (1.68e-8 ohm-m). Gold comes in third (2.44e-8 ohm-m), only slightly ahead of aluminum (2.82e-8 ohm-m).

Huh. So why do they use gold (when they do) in electronics over these other metals? Is it just for corrosion resistant contacts?

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32858654)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold#Electronics

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (1)

rtboyce (145916) | about 4 years ago | (#32894184)

Your point is well taken, but you're mistaken about gold. Gold is an excellent electrical conductor but copper is a better one, and silver is best at 20 degrees C.

See https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Electrical_resistivity [wikimedia.org] .

Re:Asteroid as candidates for commodities (3, Funny)

Svippy (876087) | about 4 years ago | (#32853320)

I spotted a post on Slashdot a couple of weeks ago which pointed out a couple of advantages of exploring the asteroid belt as a rich source of minerals and possible mining. On this strength of that brief but well worded comment I did some research myself and right now I'm currently reading the only book I could find that seemed accessible enough to a person with limited knowledge of space mining and the possibilities therein: (Mining the Sky by John S. Lewi).

Fry: Wow! Mining a comet! That sounds fun.

Farnsworth: Yes, there's no safer occupation than mining. Especially when you're perched on a snowball whipping through space at a million miles an hour. [He mimes a snowball whipping through space at a million miles an hour.] Safe!

android 2.1 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32852586)

Everybody who read android 2.1 instead of asteroid 21, stand up.

Worst summary ever? (2, Interesting)

fotoguzzi (230256) | about 4 years ago | (#32858072)

From the summary I cannot determine the name of the asteroid or the two spaceships. I can guess, but then why would I need a summary?
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