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Cardiff scientists aid asteroid and comet probe

20 July 2010

Image of Luteria at closest approach (Pic courtesy ESA)

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and Dr Max Wallis, of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, are part of the international team working on the European Space Agency’s spacecraft Rosetta.

Rosetta has just flown past the asteroid Lutetia, on its way to a rendez-vous with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko next year.

Professor Wickramasinghe and Dr Wallis are part of a German-led international group who will be probing the comet exterior and gravity field with radio waves and probing its nucleus with radar.

Meanwhile the close flyby of "Lutetia" - within 3200 km of the space rock – allowed good close-up imaging of the asteroid. Flybys of asteroids are always very interesting for the scientific community, giving them the possibility to cross check theories with real data sent from space. The Cardiff team will be able to analyse dust and gas surrounding the asteroid for comparison with the comet next year.

Cardiff scientist, Professor Wickramasinghe, who with the late Sir Fred Hoyle pioneered theories connecting comets with life, said: "The Rosetta Mission should yield detailed information about comets and provide the most stringent tests for our theories."