NEAR tightens orbit, beams asteroid with laser
NEAR obtained this image mosaic of a portion of Eros' surface on February 29, 2000, from a range of 289 kilometers (180 miles). It shows features as small as 30 meters (100 feet) across.
(Click image for large version)
LAUREL, Maryland (CNN) -- The NEAR spacecraft tightened its
orbit around Eros on Friday to an altitude of approximately 130 miles (208
km), slightly further than expected but well within the
acceptable range, a mission scientist said.
The first artificial satellite around an asteroid, the NASA
robot ship will chart the surface topography and
gravitational field of Eros over the next month, using a
variety of sophisticated instruments, including a laser range
finder that it used for the first time this week.
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) craft began a
yearlong orbit on February 14. Scientists hope its detailed
study of Eros will offer clues about the origins of the solar
NEAR had been circling Eros from about 200 miles (320 km). A
15-second engine burn Friday nudged it closer, but
preliminary estimates suggest not enough to reach the target
distance of 124 miles (200 km).
"It looks like the burn was a little short (but) it's good
enough," said Bob Farquhar, mission director for the NEAR
Laser beam caresses surface
The spacecraft aimed its laser range finder earlier this
week, firing a red beam at the space rock twice the
size of Manhattan.
| MESSAGE BOARD|
| IMAGE GALLERY |
Scientists plan to use the laser more extensively when NEAR closes in
even further on Eros, obtaining precise measurements about
the surface features on the potato-shaped asteroid.
"We will get a good shape model from this. Probably more
accurate than with the optical instruments," Farquhar said.
Moving 3 mph (5 km/h) in relation to Eros, NEAR will orbit
the asteroid three times from its current
Another engine burn on April 1 will nudge it into an orbit 60
miles (100 km) from Eros, now about 152 million miles (245
million km) from Earth.
Mission scientists have good reason to proceed cautiously
each time they move NEAR closer to Eros, which tumbles in an
eccentric manner as it circles the sun.
"We don't want to crash it into the asteroid, so we're going
down slowly and carefully," Farquhar said.
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