Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NEAR snaps new approach photos of asteroid Eros
Posted: Jan. 19, 2000

NEAR's view of Eros as seen on January 12. Photo: JHU/APL
The photo album of "NEAR's trip to Eros" has a new page: the first image from the spacecraft's approach to the asteroid.

Taken January 12 with the Multispectral Imager aboard the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous satellite, or NEAR, the picture was released this week. More photos will follow in the weeks leading up to NEAR's February 14 rendezvous with Eros.

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.

In the view the asteroid is illuminated by the Sun from the right. During the next month NEAR will continue to approach Eros at a low velocity, and the asteroid will appear progressively larger in images returned from the spacecraft.

Eros appears only as a white speck on the black background of deep space. However, mission navigators use these early images to confirm the asteroid's location and keep the spacecraft on the right course. The NEAR team also uses them to measure variations in the light reflected off Eros, a key to determining the asteroid's exact rotation.

NEAR is now about 22,500 miles (or 35,300 kilometers) from its target - closer than the distance at which most weather and communications satellites orbit the Earth.

On February 14 NEAR will fire its thrusters and begin to orbit Eros, becoming the first artificial satellite of any asteroid. NEAR is designed to return science data to answer fundamental questions about the origin and composition of asteroids, comets and our solar system.

Built and managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, NEAR was the first spacecraft launched in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, small-scale planetary missions.

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