Rosetta Flies By "Something"
Very Strange ....
By Richard C. Hoagland
© 2008 The Enterprise Mission
The evening of September 5, 2008, ESA (the European Space
Agency) successfully flew its unmanned "Rosetta"
spacecraft within 500-miles of a tiny (~ 3 miles across), newly-discovered
(1969) asteroid, known as "2867 Steins." The
diminutive asteroid was not the prime objective of Rosetta's
eleven-year projected Mission ... but only an interim "port of call"
(one of two asteroid fly-bys on Rosetta's highly involved itinerary
- see below).
The real objective of the 3-ton European spacecraft, launched
in 2004, is an unprecedented deep space chase -- involving three
repeated encounters with the Earth, one of Mars ... and the two aforementioned
asteroid fly-bys ... all carried out enroute to the ultimate target of
The eventual rendezvous (and orbit, with touchdown of
another small, sub-spacecraft -- called "Philae") ...
of a small periodic comet orbiting the Sun in a 6.6-year, highly
elliptical orbit (German diagram - below) -- Comet
Said rendezvous to be achieved in ... 2014.
The "opportunistic" Rosetta encounter with the
asteroid "Steins" (which "just happened" to lie along
the complicated route to the real Mission objective -- the comet
rendezvous with 67P), thus represented both an early scientific and "operations"
bonus for Rosetta ... as well as something of a risk.
Yes, future 2014 spacecraft observations at the comet
could be substantially enhanced by the practice gained during the initial
Steins asteroid fly-by in 2008 (and, the other asteroid, "Lutetia,"
in 2009), but taking science data from such objects was never built into
original spacecraft design; so, mission operations at Steins (which
were expected to involve several highly unusual spacecraft maneuvers ...
below) could have actually resulted in physical damage to the spacecraft
(or its instruments) during the improvised encounter!
For this reason, Rosetta Mission designers initially planned
to simply fly-by asteroid 2867 Steins "in the blind" ... taking
NO science data during
the time of actual Closest Approach!
However, this post-encounter morning -- September 6, 2008
-- there will be an ESA "Steins science press conference"
after all, to be held at Rosetta's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC)
in Darmstadt, Germany. At this press briefing, results of scientific
data taken during that encounter will, in fact, be presented;
one of the reports being that "the Rosetta spacecraft came through
[the Encounter] with flying colors ..." -- as
noted by Dr. David Southwood, ESA's Director of Science and Robotic
"... Steins might be small, but we're making
big science here", said Southwood. "The better we learn
to know the different kinds of asteroids, the better we will understand
our origins in the past. Moreover, when such Solar System wanderers
escape from the belt they could become a threat to Earth. The better
we know them, the better we will be able to mitigate the risks some
of them might present in the future."
This glowing assessment of the Rosetta fly-by, however,
initially neglected to mention one significant "detail"--
The mysterious and immensely disappointing electronic
of the spacecraft's only Narrow-Angle Camera (NAC) ... some nine minutes
(and more than 3000 miles) BEFORE the closest approach of the spacecraft
to the asteroid!
"The software switched off automatically,"
said Gerhard Schwehm, the Mission Manager and head of Solar Systems
Science Operations at ESA. "The camera has some software limits
and we'll analyze why this happened later ...."
This completely unexpected (and hugely disappointing)
"software glitch" resulted in a loss of ALL the highest-resolution
imaging data from Rosetta (including high-resolution multi-spectral and
color views) of "2867 Steins" -- leaving only the five-times-lower-resolution
Wide Angle Camera (WAC) data for visual analysis.
However, even in these lower-resolution WAC images, it
was immediately apparent that "2867 Steins" was a "curious
object" indeed; its overall appearance (below, left) was intensely
"geometric" -- resembling nothing as much (freely touted in
the official ESA press
releases) as "a diamond in the sky" (below, right) ... complete
This extraordinary first impression is easily confirmed
by a quantative geometric comparison (below) ....
This 2-D appearance is further substantiated by the 3-D
Rosetta team prepared and conveniently posted on their website (get
out your red/green glasses - below).
Steins really IS a 3-D "diamond in the sky."
* * *
Naturally, when geometric-looking objects are imaged in
space -- by either NASA, or (now) by various other space agencies around
the world -- we here at Enterprise, who have relied upon geometric
criteria in our research for almost three decades now, pay more than
casual attention ...
For, as the late Dr. Carl Sagan so famously noted:
"Intelligent life on Earth first reveals itself
through the geometric regularity of its constructions ...."
-- Carl Sagan, "Cosmos"
(Random House, 1980)
This dictim has been the single most reliable archaeological
indicator of "ancient ruins" here on Earth ... for over a hundred
years [below: note the difference between recently excavated ruins at
Armana, Egypt in this satellite image (casting sharp, "rectilinear"
shadows from "newly dug-out walls and other vertical structures")
... and those ruins still buried under the sands (evidenced by muted,
but still equally rectilinear surface outlines ...)].
As readers of Enterprise well know,
this baseline archaeological standard of "intelligence" on this
planet has been the core foundation of our ~30-year-long investigation
into NASA (and other ) imagery of potential "ancient intelligent
ruins" located on other planets in this solar system (such
as this startling example of identical "raised rectilinear
on Mars by NASA's Mars Surveyor - below) ....
By far, the ultimate expression of this "geometric
intelligence criterion" was our discovery, just a few years ago,
that an entire outer solar system object seems to follow this
essential "geometric intelligence criterion":
Iapteus -- the third largest satellite in the Saturn
system -- was imaged in 2004 by
NASA's Cassini Mission; on the best
Iapetus images sent back to Earth, the distinct, straight-edged, highly
geometric outline of this entire ~900-mile-diameter "moon"
is strikingly, blatantly apparent (below)--
An astonishing, inescapable, major solar system anomaly
-- still ... totally ignored by NASA -- even
as its extraordinary implications have been thoroughly and scientifically
addressed by Enterprise ... .
* * *
With this as backdrop, when the startling, highly-regular
"diamond-shaped" images of tiny "2867 Steins" first
appeared on the
official ESA website, we couldn't help but wonder--
"Could this, too, be an ancient, artificial
solar system object ... and not an 'asteroid' at all!? Could
ESA have been that lucky ... on its first time
However, a detailed look at the initial data (below) was
very disappointing; not only were the Closest Approach images NOT "high
resolution" ... they appeared severely compromised by a variety of
(also suspiciously "geometric"...), highly amateurish-looking
In short, given the spacecraft trajectory and published
capabilities of even its Wide-Angle Camera, we expected a LOT more
from the ESA "Steins" encounter ....
All the released images taken by Rosetta were acquired
according to previously uplinked computer commands, stored on-board --
updated by the latest navigation information. In turn, these computer
instructions (at the appropriate time) commanded the spacecraft to autonomously
reorient itself in space, before the actual fly-by, in such a way that,
during those critical few minutes of Closest Approach, the entire
spacecraft (relative to the Sun and Steins) physically "flipped itself"
This maneuver allowed Rosetta to track the radically
changing geometric relationship of the asteroid ... relative to the spacecraft
... in "real time," so that the cameras (and other on-board
sensors) remained pointed directly toward the tiny, high-velocity
target ... even as the sun-angle and pointing direction in space changed
radically in those critical few minutes (below).
This daring (and, until September 5th, totally untested)
set of complex spacecraft maneuvers was initially
rejected by Rosetta Mission planners as "too dangerous"
for the long-term Mission. This concern was due primarily to
undue thermal stresses such a maneuver would have placed on the spacecraft
and its instruments -- by rotating their electronics toward the Sun "in
those critical few minutes."
However in the end, curiously, the maneuver was ultimately
deemed "an acceptable risk" after all ....
Taking that spacecraft risk (however large or small ...)
resulted in a complete visual record of the Encounter (at least, in Wide-Angle
imaging ...), as well as data from about 14 other on-board instruments,
which the ESA scientists said they planned to use in "characterizing
the chemical composition" of "2867 Steins" -- as well as
its "reflectivity, surface texture, spin axis orientation, etc.,
etc."; because of this courageous Mission Operations' decision, at
least the Wide-Angle Camera on Rosetta was able to record the asteroid
throughout the whole Encounter period (above) -- securing views (below)
of almost 180 degrees of 2867 Stein's remarkable diamond-shaped surface
as Rosetta approached ... then passed ... the village-sized asteroid--
All at over 5 miles per second!
In the "zero-phase" released WAC image of the
sunlit side of 2867 Steins (below, left), not only is the asteroid's remarkable
overall "diamond shape" strikingly apparent ... but, at least
four, regularly-spaced "bright flanges" can also
be seen -- stretching across Steins visible circumference in an obvious
Each "flange" ... carefully aligned exactly
in the "diamond girdle plane."
This extraordinary degree of 2867 Steins' "geometric
faithfulness" to the basic "diamond cut," coupled with
the placement of these regularly-spaced "protruding flanges"
all along one plane ("the girdle" ...)--
Compellingly argued for--
* * *
It was at this point in our Enterprise Mission/Rosetta
investigation that we got a break; a few hours after its formal September
6th press conference, ESA quietly released an
animated version of Rosetta's entire "Steins' approach and recession
profile" on its official
Rosetta website -- composed of a series of actual, successive Wide-Angle
Camera images taken during the Encounter (below).
Surprisingly, the images making up this animation turned
out to be of MUCH higher quality than the half-dozen or so "stills"
released at the earlier ESA Steins press conference -- allowing further
Enterprise analyses of what Steins "actually might be ...."
Then, a few more days following the September 6th Steins
press briefing, members of the Rosetta team quietly released the one
and only published Narrow-Angle Camera view from the Encounter (and,
in color ...) -- a
composite image (red, green and blue) taken about ten and a half minutes
(~3500 miles) before Closest Approach (below, far left).
Unfortunately, because Rosetta was still "over a
continent away" from the asteroid when this image was acquired (more
than the distance from Los Angeles to New York!), it is of even lower
resolution than the later, wide-angle shots previously released.
However, despite this lower resolution, the earlier perspective
on the asteroid from this vantage point turns out to be critically significant:
This unique view allows us to see about ~ 10-degrees "further
to the west" than any other approaching Rosetta images released so
far ... into the previously unseen "western hemisphere" of Steins.
It is also (because of the overall Rosetta fly-by trajectory) taken significantly
below the "diamond girdle plane" -- which allows a
unique "looking up" perspective on the "flanges" --
for critical comparison with the much later WAC images, which (again because
of the encounter geometry) were taken "looking somewhat down"
... from above "the girdle" as the spacecraft receded
from the object ....
When this most opportune NAC color
image is even moderately enlarged and enhanced (below), it therefore reveals
a fascinating amount of new and critical geometric detail
... reinforcing our initial impression (from the later WAC images) that
the "two halves" of Steins -- left and right -- in fact, differ
radically in their overall appearance!
The key question (to be answered by further scientific
analysis, of course) is ... "why the dramatic difference?"
Strikingly apparent in this enhanced NAC image is further
evidence of "the extraordinary symmetry and order" exhibited
by the "girdle" surface features recorded on the later WAC images;
a remarkable, "highly organized" geometry ... now confirmed
to completely extend across this previously unseen "western hemisphere"
as well ....
For example: it is clear, even from this reduced resolution
image, that there are more of those mysterious "raised vertical flanges"
noted previously -- still following "the girdle plane" around
this object (comparison below - between two different-processed versions
of the same NAC color image -- with the "paired sets of
flanges" noted by the circles).
Second, one can also see a marked symmetry (vertically
and horizontally) in the location of the two largest shadows
in this hemisphere (as well as a distinct absence of random "impact
craters" ...) -- with a marked "curve" to the shadow on
the left (above). This provides strong indication that this left-hand
"curved shadow" is not, in fact, the shadow of a crater
rim ... but is actually caused by an equally-curved "vertical buttress"
on the "diamond's" facing hemisphere -- the one directly in
front of the approaching spacecraft camera. A "buttress" extending
downward from above the "girdle plane," to the "culet"
at the "diamond's" tip (see again the "cut diamond diagram,"
In fact, judged by the placement and geometry of both
these shadows, and the light areas in-between (determined by the known
illumination angle to the sun - 34 degrees), there appear to be three
such "massive buttresses" visible in this new hemisphere, arrayed
neatly at 60-degree angles--
Left ... center ... and far right (below).
Again, such blatant symmetries are NOT the hallmark
of any "natural" objects ... however much
the ESA team -- totally ignoring their own extraordinary geometric evidence
-- tried to sell the idea to the press that "... Steins is just another
example of a typical solar system asteroid."
* * *
Perhaps the most mysterious (and
potentially revealing) aspect of this object -- 2867 Steins -- is this
striking hemispherical asymmetry, seen in a simple comparison
of several images taken before, during, and after Closest Approach (below);
while the hemisphere turned toward Rosetta as it approached (below - image
#1) is marked by an extremely reflective ("high albedo") surface
... the right-hand side further to the east (images #2, 3 and 4) present
a much duller ... and far more familiar cratered view--
Long before Rosetta got close enough to Steins to resolve
it as "an object," one of the on-board cameras repeatedly
imaged its pinpoint appearance (below) against the background stars,
recording the resulting "light curve" as Steins rotated every
6.05 hours in front of the approaching spacecraft.
This recorded light curve (below, left), besides nailing
down the rotational period of Steins, was also used to construct a mathematical
model of what the close-up images (to be acquired weeks later, during
the actual fly-by) might look like (below, right); as you can see ...
based just on their computer manipulation of this light curve -- of literally
"a rotating point of light" -- the "modelers" turned
out to be amazingly correct!
Steins' light curve also plays directly back into our
earlier observation re the images: unequivocally confirming that one hemisphere
of this increasingly remarkable object is significantly more
reflective than the other; the light curve data (above, left) demonstrates
that -- as Steins rotates in space -- this quantifiable difference
in reflectivity between the two opposing hemispheres--
Steins average visual albedo is 35% -- the high end of
brightness for "an asteroid" (the average asteroid albedo range
is from 1% to around 20%). This extreme reflectivity for Steins (and striking
difference in hemispherical reflectivity ...) thus provide additional
clues as to what Steins could really be ....
* * *
An even more dramatic example of this remarkable hemispherical
dichotomy is a comparison between a "reduced brightness view"
of the NAC approaching color image (below, left), and a WAC B&W image
of the opposing hemisphere (below, right) -- the latter appropriately
reduced in resolution to match the left-hand image.
This comparison clearly underscores the fact that, while
the bright, western hemisphere of Steins (above, left) presents
a "highly organized," structural appearance ... the
far duller eastern hemisphere (above, right) presents, as previously
noted, that much more familiar cratered view ....
Raising again the crucial question: "why this dramatic
In this comparison (below, left - top and bottom), we
have taken two of the WAC images and traced the
"line of dichotomy" between these two distinctly different hemispheres,
as they changed perspective between the two successive images (below,
right - top and bottom); the surface to the left and below the red line
(west and south) appears distinctly more reflective and far less
cratered (even after we've suppressed most of the intrinsic brightness,
to being out the detail) than the surface to the right and above the red
line (east and north); the latter presents a seriously battered
meteor appearance ... created by many conspicuous impacts, large and small.
Independent observations of these craters, quoted in subsequent
news reports, made by members of the Rosetta team itself -- re, the
anomalously large number of craters appearing on such a tiny asteroid
-- were quite revealing ....
"... images beamed from the spacecraft show
the diamond shaped asteroid looming like a threat from the famous
Asteroids computer game before the deeply pockmarked surface becomes
clear. It has provided scientists with their closest look at an
asteroid to date. Huge impact craters up to 1.2km wide can be seen
covering the surface of the 3 mile diameter asteroid in a far
higher concentration than would be expected for such a small object.
"'There is also a chain of seven craters
that we would not expect to see on such a small body,' said
Professor Uwe Keller, a principal investigator at the European Space
Agency (ESA), which is behind the Rosetta mission. 'We normally
see craters like this on moons like our own. We have to look at
why they are there, but clearly Steins has a complex
collision history [emphasis added] ...."
The largest crater on Steins' surface -- the one completely
dominating the northern "pole" (below, red arrow) -- is
so large (~1 mile across ...), compared to the 3-mile diameter of
the Steins itself that, according to Space.com
"[the ESA] scientists were amazed that the asteroid survived
the impact [emphasis added] ...."
In addition to this major, potentially catastrophic crater
(in the officially-processed ESA image, above), what also can be seen
in this image is the brilliant left/right "dichotomy" discussed
earlier; the striking contrast between the extremely "high-albedo
surface" to the left (the "front" of Steins, as Rosetta
approached ...), and the heavily-cratered, much less reflective
surface to the right (in this image), in this processing, is overwhelmingly
Such a startling difference in reflectivity between hemispheres
"only 90 degrees apart," again, on such a tiny object, is simply
NOT explicable by any normal "phase-angle scattering effects"
typically used to analyze such solar system objects (a surface changing
its apparent reflection because of a changing observation angle -- between
the spacecraft, Stein's surface and the Sun); for, in this case, the total
angle subtended by this 3-mile-wide asteroid, as seen from the Rosetta
spacecraft, was essentially unchanging in this view ... only
about 2 degrees, "at the max"--
Across such a minor angle, there should be NO such dramatic
"phase effects" -- at all!
Yet, in Stein's case -- mysteriously -- there obviously
The only reasonable explanation for this otherwise baffling
reflection phenomenon must lie in some kind of fundamental "compositional
difference ..."; the hemisphere
of Steins that (by fortunate circumstance ...) was facing the Rosetta
spacecraft as it approached -- with the Sun directly behind the
camera (the so-called "zero-phase perspective" - below, left)
-- is somehow dramatically different from the surface
further around to the east ... recorded as the spacecraft viewed this
tiny object a few minutes later from a position some 90 degrees to its
approaching view (below, right).
It is this composition
difference which, somehow, must be responsible for not only in
the remarkable change in surface brightness as one moves further east
... but for the simultaneous presence of all those impact craters
on that same (somehow, much less reflective) surface ....
If one looks closely at one of the
best Rosetta images taken during Closest Approach (below, left), one can
actually see several "layers" (below, right) to that
surface ... on the eastern side of Steins; these successive layerings
(marked in red, green and blue ...) appear to descend -- from
"higher" levels in the west (toward the left) to "lower"
levels in the east (to the right) ... as one moves further around the
object toward the shadow line.
So, what could that be all about?
* * *
The simplest model for all this -- the one that best explains
all these remarkable observations -- is that "Steins"
is, indeed, an artificial object ... that has suffered, as Rosetta
scientist Uwe Keller termed it, "a complex collision[al] history."
This Enterprise "artificial" model
predicts that, because of those collisions, one entire half of
this small celestial body has suffered massive stripping of a former,
highly reflective "outer casing" or "outer hull"--
A "casing" which is still (more or less ...)
intact across one hemisphere -- the side that Rosetta captured
with its one distant NAC image before the fly-by (below, left) -- but
is now heavily cratered and abraded in the hemisphere the spacecraft imaged
with its WAC Camera at Closest Approach and after (below, right)!
This model neatly and comprehensively accounts for the
smashed and battered appearance of this eastern hemisphere ... which is,
in fact, comprised of the same underlying structural components
(now, all-but-obliterated - below, right) as those seen on Steins'
opposing western hemisphere, during the approach (above, left).
What is also apparent, because of the much higher resolution
images taken of this eastern hemisphere, is the striking appearance of
several additional geometric features on this fascinating object
-- most notably, what appear to be enormous, distinctly separated "windows"
(yes, windows ...) -- aligned horizontally, in two parallel rows, just
above Steins' highly reflective "girdle" (above, right).
These amazing, familiar-looking artificial features are
then joined (further to the east ...) by an even more compelling detail
-- what appear to be exposed "structural components" (resembling
a giant "box-like structure"... ), located above the "gridle"
-- at the top of one of those massive "buttresses" seen on Stein's
If this is what this feature really represents -- an exposed,
major structural element of "Steins" -- it has likely been stripped
of its protective covering and exposed by more of the same major impact
damage seen all across this hemisphere. This same type of damage has apparently
removed almost all the rest of Stein's brilliantly reflective covering
in this entire hemisphere, except for western sections of "the girdle"
(below, left) ... and some additional regions around the pointed "culet"
at the base of Stein's basic diamond shape.
Careful examination of this remarkable
image also reveals a myriad of additional geometric features that -- taken
all together -- form compelling testimony as to the potential true
nature of this extraordinary object.
* * *
So, let's summarize the major conclusion of our month-long
Enterprise analysis of "2867 Steins":
Based on a variety of evidence, including
the preliminary results of the Rosetta spacecraft's fly-by ...
it is increasingly unlikely that Steins is, in fact,
a "natural" solar system object!
If this hypothesis is correct (a Big "If" ...),
then Steins is also certainly NOT "made of rock" (as astronomers
have been assuming ...), but is, in fact, a 3-mile-wide manufactured
artifact -- currently of unknown surface composition --
about the size of a small "town."
It is something WE
could build in "zero-G," even given the antiquated technology
of NASA ... if we had the funds.
Based on telescopic visual and IR spectral data gathered
from Earth prior to Rosetta's fly-by, Stein's external composition could,
in fact, actually be some form of "refined metal"; this is based,
in part, on its unique spectrum -- classified as "E" according
to planetary catalogues -- making Steins among the rarest of all asteroid
types ... a spectral classification shared by only about 30
other objects in the entire solar system (as evidenced by this comparative
spectral graph - below) -- out of over three hundred thousand
Steins' rare "E-type classificiation" was reinforced
by some (still unpublished ...) Rosetta close-up spectral observations
from the fly-by, "snuck in" to the Spectember 6th ESA morning
press conference by Principal Investigator for the Visible and Infrared
Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS), Angioletta Coradini, commenting
"We didn't expect to present data today. But we got part of the data
and they are really exciting ...." Thus Coradini was
able to give a quick "sneak preview" of a couple of the VIRTIS spectral
graphs of Steins (below) -- clearly (with a much higher "signal-to-noise
ratio") supporting the uniquely "flat spectum" of these
(A more complete explanation of what Rosetta discovered
-- in terms of Steins' key surface composition -- is awaiting peer-reviewed
scientific publication of the VIRTIS data ....)
"E-class" asteroids, historically, have also
shown unique reponses to reflected
"... the most unusual feature of these observations
is that all exhibit very high polarization ratios, u =
0.8 ... Values larger than zero are caused by wavelength-scale near-surface
roughness and inhomogeneities and/or subsurface or multiple
scattering [emphasis added] ...."
According to these recently published Arecibo
radar observations -- specifically of two medium-size E-class asteroids,
"44 Nysa" and "434 Hungaria" -- some of the radio
waves reflected back to Earth (remember, from asteroids spectrally identical
to "2867 Steins" ...) could actually be coming, not from their
surfaces ... but from multiple reflections deep inside!
According to these "highly polarized"