Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

NEAR captures asteroid's heart
Posted: Feb. 14, 2000

  Heart on Eros
NEAR's captures heart-shaped feature on Eros. Photo: JHU/APL

As the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft approached a space rock named for the Greek god of love, the romantic robot isn't waiting until Valentine's Day to send greetings from asteroid 433 Eros.

NEAR has snapped about 8,000 photos of its intended since January, and no picture says love like the latest image showing a large heart carved in the asteroid.

"It truly is a valentine from Eros," says NEAR Mission Director Robert Farquhar.

NEAR's digital camera captured the feature February 11 from 1,609 miles (2,590 kms) away. The image surprised science team members yesterday as they processed the incoming data. The narrow, 3-mile (5-km) heart-shaped depression appears just below a large ridge on the 21-mile (33-km) potato-shaped asteroid. Until the spacecraft sends closer images, however, NEAR team members at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) can't say for sure what the shadowy heart really is.

"It's a tantalizing mystery," says Dr. Joseph Veverka, of Cornell University, who leads the NEAR imaging team. "It makes you wonder, what other secrets are lurking in the heart of Eros?"

Mission Status Center
For the latest updates on the progress of the orbit insertion see Spaceflight Now's regularly updated Mission Status Center.

Video vault
Animation shows the NEAR spacecraft encountering 433 Eros and firing its thrusters to begin orbiting the asteroid.
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