Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

February 15, 1996

NEAR to an Asteroid
Credit: NASA, JPL, Galileo Project

Explanation: Excitement mounts as NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft nears launch - currently scheduled for 3:53 ET on February 16. NEAR's mission is to become the first spacecraft to rendezvous with and orbit an asteroid, the asteroid designated 433 Eros. After achieving Eros orbit in 1999, project plans are to explore the asteroid for 1 year from this premiere vantage point, perhaps approaching to within 15 miles of the surface. For comparison, above is an image of the limb of asteroid Ida made by the Galileo spacecraft from a distance of about 1,500 miles, the highest resolution image of an asteroid surface - so far. It is hoped that NEAR will go far towards answering questions about the nature and origin of near Earth asteroids. These objects are thought to contain clues to the formation of the inner planets and influence the evolution of the atmosphere and life on Earth. Are asteroids and meteorites related? Do asteroids ever strike the Earth?

Tomorrow's picture: The Early Universe

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.