NEAR Shoemaker Skims Just 3 Miles Over the Surface of Eros

By Keith Cowing
October 26, 2000
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NEAR closeup of Eros Early this morning, NEAR Shoemaker skimmed across the surface of Eros snapping photos of objects only a few feet across. The low-altitude flyover began yesterday (25 October) with an engine burn that dropped the spacecraft from a circular, 31-mile (50-kilometer) orbit into one that would bring it close to Eros. The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft was closest to the asteroid at about 3 AM EDT as it approached Eros at approximately 3 miles (5.3 kilometers) above its surface and traveling at about 14 miles per hour (6 meters per second).

° NEAR image of the day for 2000 Oct 26 (B)

According to the image caption which accompanied the first close-up image releases: “This image was taken in the early hours of October 26, 2000, near the closest approach of NEAR Shoemaker’s low-altitude flyover of Eros. At that time, the spacecraft’s digital camera was looking at a region just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) away, about 300 meters (1,000 feet) across. Most of the scene is covered in rocks of all sizes and shapes, but the floors of some craters are smooth, suggesting accumulation of fine regolith. For scale, the large boulder just below and to the right of the center of the picture is about 15 meters (50 feet) across. The smallest visible rocks are about 1.2 meters (4 feet) across.”

Eros was discovered in 1898 and is one of the largest asteroids known. Eros has an elongated peanut-like shape measuring 40 x 14 x 14 kilometers and rotates once every 5.27 hours. Eros is classified as an Earth Approaching Asteroid. Specifically it is placed in the Amor category of asteroids. Amors have orbits that bring them to within 1.3 AU of the sun (1.3 times Earth’s average distance from the sun). Eros orbits around the Sun with a perihelion (closest approach) of 1.13 AU (169,045,593 km) and an aphelion (greatest distance) of 1.78 AU (266,284,209 km).

The primary mission of NEAR is to orbit asteroid Eros for approximately 1 year. During that time it will conduct a variety of measurements designed to help understand the composition, mineralogy, and overall characteristics of Eros. 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.

Related Links

° SpaceRef Focus on NEAR

° NEAR website, Johns Hopkins University

° 24 October 2000: NEAR Scientists Gathering Solid Data on Complex Asteroid Eros, Johns Hopkins University

° 23 October 2000: NEAR Shoemaker closes in for unprecedented view of asteroid, Johns Hopkins University

Background Information

° Asteroids and Comets, SpaceRef Directory

° NEAR Shoemaker Moves Closer to Asteroid 433 Eros, SpaceRef

° Putting NEAR’s Images in Perspective, SpaceRef

° NEAR gets Nearer to Eros, SpaceRef

° NEAR’s Near-Infrared Spectrometer No Longer Works, SpaceRef

° More Color Photos of Eros from NEAR, SpaceRef

° NEAR Rendezvous Burn a Success, SpaceRef

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