NEAR Team Releases Low-Flyover Movie
November 14, 2000

Showing you don't need lasers and light sabers to make a great space flick, the NEAR mission team has released the first movie from NEAR Shoemaker's low-altitude buzz over Eros:

Shot in the early hours of Oct. 26, 2000, the film covers segments of a 55-minute span in which NEAR Shoemaker closes from 8 to 5 miles (13 to 8 kilometers) over the asteroid's rocky surface. Without giving away too much of the plot, the 90-second movie includes unprecedented and detailed views of dust-filled craters, jagged boulders and rugged terrain that have intrigued NEAR scientists.

"The resolution in these images is about three times better than any we've seen of Eros, and they've given us a lot to talk about," says NEAR Project Scientist Andrew Cheng. "There is an amazing number and variety of boulders, some of which seem to have a layered structure. We also see the same global fabric of ridges and grooves that we saw from higher altitudes, and from this altitude we can discern finer details."

The NEAR Web site offers several movies of Eros, some going back to the weeks before NEAR Shoemaker's historic Valentine's Day rendezvous with the asteroid. Mark Robinson, a NEAR science team member from Northwestern University who produces the movies from images snapped by NEAR Shoemaker's digital camera, says the short films are as scientifically valuable as they are cool to watch.

"Setting the images in motion reveals a lot about the asteroid itself," Robinson says. "The movies give us a dynamic look at changes in the shadowing and shading of surface features. By examining features with different illumination, geologists get a better look into the history of the asteroid."

The low flyover on Oct. 25-26 sent NEAR Shoemaker about 3 miles (5.3 kilometers) from Eros' surface, the closest any spacecraft has ever come to a planetary body without landing on it. The car-sized satellite has since moved into a higher orbit, gathering global images of Eros from about 124 miles (200 kilometers) away. After starting a 22-mile (35-kilometer) orbit on Dec. 13, NEAR Shoemaker will operate at that distance or lower until the mission ends in February 2001.

Check out the entire gallery of NEAR movies and pictures: