Stunning close-up views of asteroid 433 Eros from the descending NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft get top billing in a new movie from NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission. The minute-long movie, released today on the NEAR Web site at http://near.jhuapl.edu covers the final moments of NEAR's yearlong orbit at Eros. NEAR Shoemaker made history on Feb. 12, 2001, when the orbiter became the first spacecraft to land and then operate on the surface of an asteroid. NASA extended the mission until Feb. 28, 2001, so the intrepid spacecraft could gather additional data on the 21-mile-long space rock.
Imaging team member Mark Robinson produced the movie from 64 detailed pictures NEAR Shoemaker snapped during the last 3 miles (about 5 kilometers) of its controlled descent. Pointed at the surface during the entire landing sequence and taking about two pictures a minute, the digital camera pans over cracked and jagged rocks, boulder patches, craters filled with dust and debris, and mysterious areas where the surface appears to have collapsed. The final frame, taken 422 feet (128 meters) above Eros just moments before touchdown, shows features the size of a golf ball.
"The movies are a great way to see the complex surface properties on Eros," says Robinson, a research assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. "Set in motion, the descent images clearly show the asteroid's varied terrain, for example, when NEAR Shoemaker moves over boulder patches into smoother areas just before the landing site. This was the closest look we had at Eros and the pictures are incredibly valuable to our studies."
NEAR image processing is a joint project between Northwestern, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. APL built the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft and managed the mission for NASA. NEAR Shoemaker launched Feb. 17, 1996 -- the first in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, scientifically focused missions -- and became the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid on Feb. 14, 2000.
The car-sized satellite gathered 10 times more data than originally planned and now rests silently in Eros' southern hemisphere, nearly 197 million miles (315 million kilometers) from Earth. Visit the NEAR Web site at http://near.jhuapl.edu for more information.
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, uses innovative science and technology to solve complex problems that present critical challenges to the nation. For information, visit http://www.jhuapl.edu.
Materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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