13 February 2000
For Immediate Release
NEAR Captures an Asteroid's Heart
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft has a Feb. 14 date with a space rock named for the Greek god of love, but the romantic robot isn't waiting until Valentine's Day to send greetings from asteroid 433 Eros.
NEAR has snapped about 8,000 photos of its intended since January, and no picture says love like the latest image showing a large heart carved in the asteroid. The image is available on the NEAR Web site at http://near.jhuapl.edu.
"It truly is a valentine from Eros," says NEAR Mission Director Robert Farquhar.
NEAR's digital camera captured the feature Feb. 11 from 1,609 miles (2,590 kilometers) away. The image surprised science team members yesterday as they processed the incoming data. The narrow, 3-mile (5-kilometer) heart-shaped depression appears just below a large ridge on the 21-mile (33-kilometer) potato-shaped asteroid. Until the spacecraft sends closer images, however, NEAR team members at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) can't say for sure what the shadowy heart really is.
"It's a tantalizing mystery," says Dr. Joseph Veverka, of Cornell University, who leads the NEAR imaging team. "It makes you wonder, what other secrets are lurking in the heart of Eros?"
NEAR will begin unfolding such mysteries when the spacecraft meets up with Eros tomorrow at 10:33 a.m. (EST) and becomes the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid. APL designed and built NEAR and manages the mission for NASA. For the latest mission news and images, visit the NEAR Web site at http://near.jhuapl.edu.