Galileo's encounter with 243 Ida: An overview of the imaging experiment

Michael J.S. Belton, Clark R. Chapman, Kenneth P. Klaasen, Ann P. Harch, Peter C. Thomas, Joseph Veverka, Alfred S. McEwen, Robert T. Pappalardo

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72 Scopus citations


We provide an overview of the execution, data, and results of the solid state imaging (SSI) experiment at the encounter of the Galileo spacecraft with the asteroid 243 Ida. Ninety-six images of the asteroid, representing 18 time samples during a rotation period (4.633 h), were transmitted to Earth as a result of the UT 1993 August 28.70284 encounter. This provided coverage of ∼95% of the surface and achieved ground resolutions as high as 25 m/pixel. Coverage of most of Ida's surface is available in four colors, with limited regions in five colors, at resolutions up to 105 m/pixel. A natural satellite of Ida, called Dactyl, was discovered in a prograde (with respect to Ida's spin), near-equatorial, orbit moving slowly (∼ 6 m/sec) with a separation of 85 km from Ida. Ida's shape is highly irregular; by comparison, Dactyl's global topography is quite smooth. The best fit ellipsoid to Ida's shape has principal dimensions 59.8 × 25.4 × 18.6 km, mean radius 15.7 km, and volume 16,100 ± 1900 km3. Dactyl's mean radius is only 0.7 km. Ida's spin axis (right ascension: 348.76° ± 7.5°; declination: 87.10° ± 0.4°; J2000) was found to align with the principal axis of inertia to within the error of measurement. This is consistent with a homogeneous density distribution. Dactyl's rotation rate is unknown, but its long axis was pointed in the direction of Ida at the time of observation, suggesting synchronism of its orbital motion and spin. Constraints on Dactyl's orbit yield 4.2 ± 0.6 × 1019 g for Ida's mass and 2.6 ± 0.5 g/cm3 for its bulk density. Unless Ida's bulk porosity is exceptionally high, Ida has moderate to low NiFe content. Subtle color variations across the surface of Ida are associated with fresh craters, but, unlike the case for Asteroid 951 Gaspra, are not correlated with topographic features such as ridges. This difference may be a reflection of a deeper and/or more mobile regolith on Ida. Dactyl's spectral reflectance is similar to, but quantitatively distinct from the surface of Ida itself. This difference may reflect compositional differences between Dactyl and Ida, which in turn may have originated in an only partially differentiated Koronis parent body. Results on the origin, collisional history, and geology of Ida and Dactyl are the subject of many of the papers in this special issue. There is general agreement that these asteroids originated in the catastrophic breakup of the Koronis parent body and that the formation of asteroid-satellite systems may be relatively common in such events. The age and collisional history of the pair present a dilemma: using standard interpretations of the cratering record on Ida's surface, an age > 1 byr. is indicated. However, the lifetime of Dactyl against collisional disruption is many times less than this. Novel ideas are presented concerning the collisional history of these two small objects that may resolve this dilemma. These ideas result from analysis of the geological record on the surface of Ida, Dactyl, and, by comparison, Gaspra - all of which are examined in this special issue. The execution of the Galileo flybys of Gaspra, Ida, and Dactyl provide important lessons for future flybys of small bodies. We present our views on the limitations faced by the Galileo imaging experimenters and indicate how future missions can be made more quantitative and productive through the application of innovative electronic control systems and detector technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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