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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 15:46 GMT
Asteroid first for UK scientist
Probe approaches Eros
The probe approaches Eros, 320 million km from Earth
A British scientist was the first person to see the rocky surface of the asteroid Eros as an unmanned probe made an historic landing on the space rock.

It's too early to say what the pictures will show and it will take years of study

Dr Louise Prockter
Geologist Dr Louise Prockter was an advisor to the camera teams working on the pictures beamed from the surface of the giant asteroid.

Speaking from mission control in Columbia, Maryland, US, after the Near-Shoemaker craft had touched down, Dr Prockter said: "I was the first person to see the images as they were beamed back. It was very exciting and very nerve-wracking.

"It's too early to say what the pictures will show and it will take years of study. But it was so exciting to be involved."

Mission success

The spacecraft successfully touched down on the surface of Eros shortly after 2000 GMT on Monday. To the scientists' amazement, the probe is continuing to beam back information to Earth.

The American space agency (Nasa) rated the mission a success for the data it collected about Eros.

Mission control
The probe is still sending signals to mission control
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous- (Near) Shoemaker probe has spent the last year taking photos of the asteroid, gathering information about its composition, size, shape and structure.

Dr Prockter will study the 160,000 images obtained, a process that is expected to take several years.

"It actually looks very sandy on the surface," Dr Prockter told the BBC. "It isn't sand but it is very fine-grained and there seem to be a lot of boulders. We can actually see the details on some of the boulders."

Scientists are interested in the composition of Eros because it is probably a rocky remnant from the formation of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years ago.

The mission could also prove valuable if scientists ever have to try to deflect an asteroid that might one day collide with our planet. Eros itself has the potential to hit Earth in 1.5 million years or so.

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