ScienceShot: Presenting the Little Folks of the Solar System

This might be the closest astronomers come to an asteroid and comet family photo. Created by planetary scientist Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society, this montage captures every comet and asteroid that's had its picture taken close-up by a visiting spacecraft. The 132-kilometer-long asteroid Lutetia, first imaged earlier this month, looms large over the others. Smallest of the bunch is 0.5-kilometer-long Itokawa, a vanishingly faint dot near the left-middle edge of Lutetia. Although they vary in composition from rock (Ida) to dirty ice (comets) to possibly metal (Lutetia), all of these objects testify to the eons of battering that every body in the solar system has endured. Lakdawalla will be updating her montage soon enough as the Deep Impact spacecraft flies by comet Hartley 2 this coming November and Stardust encounters comet Tempel 1 for the second time next February. But next summer’s target for the Dawn spacecraft—the hulking 530-kilometer-diameter asteroid Vesta—will be in a class by itself.

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*This article has been corrected. It originally stated that the smallest object visited by a spacecraft was 1.6-kilometer-long Dactyl instead of 0.5-kilometer-long Itokawa.