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NASA releases first 'flyover movie' of asteroid

March 24, 2000
Web posted at: 9:23 AM EST (1423 GMT)


In this story:

Close-ups, in real color

North pole spotted, bathed in light

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



LAUREL, Maryland (CNN) -- A NASA robot ship has become a film director of sorts, lensing a thriller while closely orbiting an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.

The cinematic first, one of several planned "flyover movies" of asteroid Eros, offers a roller coaster ride near the surface of the space rock, highlighting eerie surface features and extreme contrasts of light and dark.

The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft acquired the movie images earlier this month as it circled Eros from a distance of 127 miles (205 km). The craft began orbiting the potato-shaped asteroid five weeks ago.

  GALLERY
 
  VIDEO

See a QuickTime version of the flyover

 
  MESSAGE BOARD
 

The movie takes place over part of an asteroid "day" as NEAR Shoemaker flew over a gouged area of Eros called the saddle. With the sun low to the surface, landform shadows dominate the scenes. When the sun rises high in the sky, however, variations in the reflected brightness of different surface materials steal the show. Mission scientists posted the movie on the NEAR Web site late Thursday.

Close-ups, in real color

In addition, recent still pictures taken by NEAR Shoemaker reveal mysterious features of Eros never seen before, said mission scientists who released the images this week.

For weeks, NEAR Shoemaker has steadily descended into lower orbits around the asteroid, allowing the robot ship to snap images of increasingly higher resolution.

EROS
The latest images of asteroid Eros. Click each image for a larger version.  

In the true-color image, the inset on the right was taken three weeks ago from a range of 175 miles (283 km) and shows small details only 89 feet (27 m) across.

The bright material on the wall of the large crater in the inset is barely detectable in the lower-resolution image to the left of the inset, taken more than a month ago from 1,083 miles (1,748 km).

North pole spotted, bathed in light

The second image, shot more recently from 127 miles (206 km), focuses on Eros' north pole. Craters pock much of the space rock, but the relatively smooth area to the left suggests that the surface has been modified since it formed, said NEAR researchers.

Eros' rotational axis is almost parallel to its orbital plane, much like the planet Uranus, giving the asteroid exaggerated seasons. Currently the asteroid is experiencing northern summer, meaning sunlight continuously bathes the north pole.

The third image looks down the length of Eros. NEAR-Shoemaker took it from the same distance as the polar picture. Craters of all sizes riddle this region. Many larger craters have bright markings on their interior walls.

The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft was renamed the NEAR Shoemaker last week to honor the late Eugene M. Shoemaker, a pioneer in the study of asteroid and comet impacts on Earth and other planets.

On February 14, the satellite began a yearlong orbit around Eros, which is about twice the size of Manhattan. Both Eros and NEAR Shoemaker are currently 152 million miles (almost 245 million km) from Earth.

Scientists think the asteroid study can offer clues about many celestial mysteries, including the early composition of the solar system and the evolution of the planets.



RELATED STORIES:
Asteroid orbiter returns bounty of data, images
March 14, 2000
NEAR tightens orbit, beams asteroid with laser
March 3, 2000
Orbiter moves closer to asteroid Eros
February 25, 2000
'Stunning' images hint asteroid broke from a planet
February 17, 2000
Spacecraft zooms in on potato-shaped asteroid
February 16, 2000

RELATED SITES:
NASA Homepage
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission

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