NEAR Gets Nearer to Eros

By Keith Cowing
January 18, 2000
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[19 Jan 2000] According to the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, “This distant image of the asteroid Eros was taken on January 12, 2000 from the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft. The image was taken at a range of 27,200 miles (45,350 km) while the spacecraft approached the asteroid at a velocity of 43 miles per hour (19 meters per second). At that time NEAR was 170 million miles (274 million kilometers) from Earth. Eros is a very elongated object about 21 by 8 by 8 miles (33 by 13 by 13 kilometers) in size.”

Full story and background information …

On 14 February 2000, after a year’s delay, the NEAR spacecraft will begin the intricate dance of settling into an orbit around asteroid 433 Eros. If NEAR accomplishes its main task, it has the potential of utterly rewriting our understanding of asteroids.

So far we’ve only flown past asteroids and snapped a few pictures. NEAR will orbit Eros and map it in unprecedented, intimate detail. If all works out after its baseline mission is completed, NEAR will circle in closer and closer until mission controllers may actually attempt a quasi-soft landing (i.e. a slow motion collision) on Eros itself.

SpaceRef will attempt to depict every aspect of this mission – from its prelude, the discovery of Eros in 1898, to NEAR’s arrival and collection of data from Eros itself a century later in 2000. Stay tuned.

° NEAR Background Press Kit –3.7MB PDF file, JHU/APL

° Shape of Asteroid 433 Eros from Inversion of Goldstone Radar Doppler Spectra, NASA JPL

° NEAR image of the day for 2000 Jan 14, JHU/APL

° NEAR image of the day for 1999 Jan 21 (MPEG Movie, 2.3 MB file) JHUAPL; “This movie shows the asteroid Eros as seen from the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft on December 23, 1998, when NEAR flew within 2320 miles (3830 kilometers) of the asteroid. Eros, a very elongated, cratered object about 18 by 8 miles (30 by 14 kilometers) across, is seen rotating with a period of just over 5 hours. “

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.