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Rosetta to pass asteroid Steins next week

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PARIS, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency says it is preparing for its Rosetta spacecraft to make an historic encounter with asteroid Steins.

The fly-by is to occur Sept. 5, marking Rosetta's first contact with one of its three scientific targets. The ESA said the spacecraft will rendezvous with the asteroid in the course of its first incursion into the asteroid belt located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. A fly-by of asteroid Lutetia is to occur July 10, 2010, with the spacecraft winding up at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014.

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Astronomers say the study of asteroids is extremely important since they represent a sample of solar system material at different stages of evolution.

Rosetta's will pass asteroid Steins at a distance of about 500 miles, with the encounter monitored at the ESA's European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

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