- News Home
5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
NEAR and Eros in an Eternal Embrace
12 February 2001 7:00 pm
"The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft is safely on the surface of Eros," Robert Farquhar proudly announced at 3:30 EST this afternoon. The NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) mission director and controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, had just guided a half-ton spacecraft to such a gentle touchdown on the 33-kilometer asteroid Eros that the orbiter didn't miss a beat in its radio transmissions. The pictures returned just before touchdown revealed details on a centimeter scale that may help planetary scientists solve several mysteries about the asteroid.
The programmed descent of NEAR Shoemaker went without a hitch, even though the craft was never designed to contact anything. A single rocket fired at 10:31 a.m., sending the spacecraft toward the surface. Then four braking maneuvers in the final hour slowed it from 32 kilometers per hour to its touchdown speed, which was intended to be the pace of a slow jog. Still, the chance of survival was not much more than 1%, Farquhar said. Much to the surprise of all, a signal continued for at least half an hour after touchdown. "I think we can claim we soft-landed on the surface," Farquhar said.
The last image returned before contact shows a rocky, airless surface far different than that of the moon. Apollo astronauts drove around many a crater as deep as the day a meteorite gouged it out, but a fine, thick "soil," or regolith, covers the surface of Eros and has somehow ponded in small impact craters. And on Eros, boulders stick up through the regolith as if planted there rather than appearing to have fallen from a larger, nearby impact. If its last pictures help solve such mysteries, NEAR Shoemaker can rest in peace.