Tue, 13 Feb 2001 08:49:35 -0800
At 12:04 PST on Monday, 13 February, 2001, the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous
(NEAR) Shoemaker spacecraft landed on asteroid 433 Eros at a distance of 315
million kilometers (196 million miles) from the Sun. It takes 15 minutes for
radio signals to travel from NEAR Shoemaker to Earth and vice versa.
433 Eros is a Class M asteroid composed of iron, silicon, magnesium and
aluminum. It's 34 km (21 miles) long and 13 km (8 miles) wide and thick --
about the same length but twice the diameter of a Gundam space colony -- with a
mean orbital velocity of 18 kps (= 64,000 kph = 59,000 fps = 40,000 mph = Mach
54). This is three times the size and about the same speed as the rock that
supposedly did in the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, so it'd be a real killer
if it ever hit the Earth. Not to worry, though -- in this case, "near Earth"
means within 195 million km (121 million miles) and, to date, about a million km
(620,000 miles) or about four times the distance of the Moon.
NEAR Shoemaker was launched on 17 February 1996 and, after a slingshot around
the Earth on 23 January 1998, went into orbit around 433 Eros on 14 February
2000. After the craft had done all it was designed to do, the controllers
decided to try landing it on the asteroid just to see if they could. The
landing approach took four and a half hours and NEAR Shoemaker, which has no
landing gear, made contact at 1.5 to 1.8 mps (= 5.6 to 6.4 kph = 5 to 6 fps =
3.5 to 4 mph) or about the same speed as a parachutist hitting the ground here
on Earth. It bounced about 70 to 100 meters (230 to 330 feet) back into space
before coming to rest on the surface.
Interestingly, 433 Eros is named for the Greek god of love and all of the
significant dates the NEAR Shoemaker's history -- launch, orbit around 433 Eros
and landing on 433 Eros -- have been on or near Valentine's Day.
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