Asteroid Eros resembles 'building blocks' of Earth
Color image of asteroid Eros taken by the NEAR spacecraft
(CNN) -- The asteroid Eros could be related to primordial
meteorites found on Earth, offering critical clues about the
formation of the solar system, according to scientists
studying data from a NASA probe orbiting the space rock.
Mission scientists said this week that information collected
by the NEAR-Shoemaker craft indicates that Eros is composed
of the same material as chondrites, primordial meteorites
thought to have originated when the planets formed billions
of years ago.
An analysis of X-rays from an area about 3.7 miles (6 km)
across Eros exposes an elemental composition similar to the
most primitive rocks in the solar system, the chrondritic
meteorites, said Dr. Jaco Trombka of NASA's Goddard Space
Asteroid movie marathon goes global
After making a series of short flyover movies, NEAR-Shoemaker
trained its lens on asteroid Eros for a
complete orbit. Shot in May, the latest and longest film
spotlights the saddle region, a ridge that extends across
much of the asteroid and a 3 mile (5 km) long impact crater.
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"Up to now, it was speculation. We hope this will give the
connection that we need," he said. "It's sort of like the
Tim McCoy of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of
Natural History called chondrites "the building blocks of
"If more data confirm Eros is primordial, Eros will be a link
between the chondrite meteorites found on Earth and the
history of the solar system's formation," McCoy said. "With
Eros, we could be looking at the structure of the solar
system during a time no longer recorded on Earth."
A powerful solar explosion afforded the NEAR (Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous) ship an opportunity to analyze the
composition of the 21 mile (34 km) long object.
Certain elements on the surface emitted X-rays when the sun
zapped Eros with an intense burst of radiation for 30 minutes
on May 4. NEAR-Shoemaker was then able to produce a
"fingerprint" of the asteroid's chemical makeup, mission
Without such a solar explosion, NEAR-Shoemaker would likely
have had to pass several times over the same spot to record
as much data. "Here we did it in one fell swoop," Trombka
NEAR-Shoemaker began its yearlong orbit around Eros on
February 14 and currently circles the asteroid from a
distance of 31 miles (50 km). The spacecraft will descend to
about 15 miles (24 km) on July 7. The asteroid is more than
94 million miles (152 million km) from Earth.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in
Laurel, Maryland, designed and built the NEAR spacecraft and
manages the mission for NASA.
NASA unveils quartet of asteroid movies
April 28, 2000
Spacecraft moves within 62 miles of asteroid
April 14, 2000
NASA releases 2nd movie of asteroid Eros
March 27, 2000
NEAR tightens orbit, beams asteroid with laser
March 3, 2000
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The National Museum of Natural History - Smithsonian Institution
Johns Hopkins University
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