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NASA movie shows spacecraft's near-asteroid swoop

Color composite image of asteroid Eros  
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(CNN) -- A robot ship's daring plunge toward an asteroid is documented in a series of images released this week by NASA, providing the closest look yet at the planetoid's ridged and warped terrain.

At the closest point the October 26 flyby, NEAR-Shoemaker flew within 5 miles (8 km) of the surface of Eros, an oddly shaped space rock that tumbles through space in an eccentric orbit.

The 90-second video zooms in closer than ever before on the dusty craters, boulder fields and mysterious grooves and ridges that riddle the asteroid, which is roughly twice the size of Manhattan.

"The resolution in these images is about three times better than any we've seen of Eros," said Andrew Cheng, a NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) team scientist, in a statement. "There is an amazing number and variety of boulders, some of which seem to have a layered structure."

Mark Robinson, a NEAR science team member, said NEAR films are scientifically as well as visually appealing.

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"Setting the images in motion reveals a lot about the asteroid itself," Robinson said. "The movies give us a dynamic look at changes in the shadowing and shading of surface features. By examining features with different illumination, geologists get a better look into the history of the asteroid."

After its October plunge, NEAR-Shoemaker ascended to an orbit of 124 miles (200 km).

The automobile-sized spacecraft will descend to a 22-mile (35-km) orbit in December and is scheduled to conclude its mission in February.



RELATED STORIES:
NASA orbiter backs off asteroid Eros
July 27, 2000
Spacecraft gets closest look yet at asteroid
July 18, 2000
Summer lets orbiter see asteroid Eros in new light
June 27, 2000
Asteroid Eros resembles 'building blocks' of Earth
May 31, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
NASA


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