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Asteroid Eros resembles 'building blocks' of Earth

Color image of asteroid Eros taken by the NEAR spacecraft  

May 31, 2000
Web posted at: 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT)

(CNN) -- The asteroid Eros could be related to primordial meteorites found on Earth, offering critical clues about the formation of the solar system, according to scientists studying data from a NASA probe orbiting the space rock.

Mission scientists said this week that information collected by the NEAR-Shoemaker craft indicates that Eros is composed of the same material as chondrites, primordial meteorites thought to have originated when the planets formed billions of years ago.

An analysis of X-rays from an area about 3.7 miles (6 km) across Eros exposes an elemental composition similar to the most primitive rocks in the solar system, the chrondritic meteorites, said Dr. Jaco Trombka of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

  QUICKTIME

Asteroid movie marathon goes global

After making a series of short flyover movies, NEAR-Shoemaker trained its lens on asteroid Eros for a complete orbit. Shot in May, the latest and longest film spotlights the saddle region, a ridge that extends across much of the asteroid and a 3 mile (5 km) long impact crater.

1337 K / 32.17 sec. / 240x180
QuickTime movie

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  GALLERY
 
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"Up to now, it was speculation. We hope this will give the connection that we need," he said. "It's sort of like the touchstone."

Tim McCoy of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History called chondrites "the building blocks of terrestrial planets."

"If more data confirm Eros is primordial, Eros will be a link between the chondrite meteorites found on Earth and the history of the solar system's formation," McCoy said. "With Eros, we could be looking at the structure of the solar system during a time no longer recorded on Earth."

A powerful solar explosion afforded the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) ship an opportunity to analyze the composition of the 21 mile (34 km) long object.

Certain elements on the surface emitted X-rays when the sun zapped Eros with an intense burst of radiation for 30 minutes on May 4. NEAR-Shoemaker was then able to produce a "fingerprint" of the asteroid's chemical makeup, mission scientists said.

Without such a solar explosion, NEAR-Shoemaker would likely have had to pass several times over the same spot to record as much data. "Here we did it in one fell swoop," Trombka said.

NEAR-Shoemaker began its yearlong orbit around Eros on February 14 and currently circles the asteroid from a distance of 31 miles (50 km). The spacecraft will descend to about 15 miles (24 km) on July 7. The asteroid is more than 94 million miles (152 million km) from Earth.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed and built the NEAR spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA.



RELATED STORIES:
NASA unveils quartet of asteroid movies
April 28, 2000
Spacecraft moves within 62 miles of asteroid
April 14, 2000
NASA releases 2nd movie of asteroid Eros
March 27, 2000
NEAR tightens orbit, beams asteroid with laser
March 3, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
NASA Homepage
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The National Museum of Natural History - Smithsonian Institution
Johns Hopkins University

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