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Professor William Boynton
"We can find out what asteroids are made of"
 real 28k

The BBC's Sue Nelson reports
The asteroid is roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight
 real 28k

Monday, 14 February, 2000, 16:02 GMT
Spacecraft fulfils Valentine's date

Eros So Near: The craft may brush the asteroid


By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The tiny Near spacecraft has swept into a trouble-free orbit around the asteroid Eros, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid. It fulfilled its Valentine's day date just over a year after its first attempt failed.



We're going to Eros - Eros is the god of love and the only thing that's important in life is to love and be loved.
Mission director Robert Farquhar, asked why he chose 14 February
A few hours before the manoeuvre, mission officials uploaded the encounter commands to Near's computer. These allowed it to automatically fire its thrusters and settle into a 200 km (124-mile) orbit of the potato-shaped asteroid.

Near will now begin a year-long study of Eros, conducting research that one day may help mankind defend the Earth against a killer asteroid like the one thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Failure at first

"Everything is operating right on time," mission director Robert Farquhar said. "It is working exactly as we expected. We can just sit and wait now."

Eros is 34 km (21 miles) long and 13 km (8 miles) wide. The encounter took place 257 million km (160 million miles) from Earth.

Eros snapped by Near from 2,590 km Eros snapped by Near from 2,590 km
The $224 million spacecraft was launched 17 February 1996 and should have gone into orbit around Eros in January 1999. However, a rocket firing that would have aimed the spacecraft at the asteroid went wrong and shut down automatically.

During its mission, Near will descend into lower and lower orbits. Later this year it may actually brush Eros' surface with a solar panel and photograph the mark it leaves.

"That's one of several options the team is considering for the end of the mission," said Mr Farquhar.

Near has five instruments, including a camera, that will map and probe Eros. The instruments will measure density, chemical composition and magnetic fields.

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See also:
12 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Probe nears its rocky target
26 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Probe readies for Valentine reunion
12 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Happy Valentine's from Mars
04 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Saving the world from asteroids
09 Feb 99 |  Sci/Tech
Eros brought down to size
22 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Gold rush in space?

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