Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2000 February 10
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Eros Encounter Nears
Credit: NEAR Project, JHU APL, NASA

Explanation: After an unanticipated extra trip around the Sun, the NEAR spacecraft is now politely approaching asteroid 433, Eros, at a respectful relative speed of about 20 miles per hour. Still nearly 2,000 miles distant, NEAR will close to within approximately 200 miles by February 14th - Valentine's Day. If all goes well, the spacecraft will then be captured by the gentle attraction of Eros' gravity, becoming the first artificial moon of an asteroid. While Eros is not round it is certainly not heart-shaped either as seen in this series of frames showing the roughly 20 x 8 x 8 mile asteroid during its 5.27 hour rotation period. Different perspectives clearly show a gouge or saddle and a large impact crater with a raised rim near the asteroid's narrow waist. The frames were recorded by the NEAR spacecraft's multi-spectral imager on February 4th from a range of 4,600 miles.

Tomorrow's picture: XMM: First X-rays

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.