Culminating a five-year mission to explore the near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros, the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft settled into its final resting place on the 21-mile-long, potato-shaped rock. It is the first craft to land on an asteroid. NEAR Shoemaker, which was built and managed for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., continued to take images and collect data on its descent, including the image from 820 feet above the surface, seen here.
The spacecraft had orbited Eros for a year, probing the asteroid with infrared and x-ray/gamma-ray spectrometry and laser altimetry. Its multispectral imager, based on a silicon CCD with seven spectral filters, took more than 160,000 pictures during the mission.
Eros is an S-type asteroid, composed largely of pyroxene and olivine. The estimated temperature of the undifferentiated body, which likely was created in the collision of other asteroids, varies from +212 to -238 °F. Researchers are puzzling over the unusual distribution of craters and ejecta on Eros, which suggest that an unknown process is sculpting its surface.
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