NEAR Renamed for Eugene Shoemaker
The newly renamed NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft captured this oblique view
of the large central crater on minor planet 433 Eros. Boulders can be
seen in several of the craters. The view has a resolution of about 20
meters (65 feet). Courtesy Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Click on image for larger view.
The first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid has been renamed to honor geologist Eugene M. Shoemaker. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft, which has been circling the asteroid 433 Eros since February 14th, will now be known as NEAR Shoemaker. The annoucement was made on March 14th at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas, by Carl B. Pilcher, Director of Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters. "Gene Shoemaker was an inspirational, charismatic pioneer in the field of interplanetary science," Pilcher explained. "It is a fitting tribute that we place his name on the spacecraft whose mission will expand on all he taught us about asteroids, comets, and the origins of our solar system."
NEAR Shoemaker currently orbits Eros about 200 kilometers from its center, taking 9 days to complete one revolution (Eros itself rotates every 5.27 hours). The orbit will be shrunk to 100-km radius on April 1st, and soon thereafter NEAR should be circling at just 50 km -- close enough to use its magnetometer and X-ray/gamma-ray spectrometers.
At the conference, Donald
K. Yeomans (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) reported that Eros's mass has been
determined to be 6.7 x 1018 grams. This yields
a bulk density of 2.7 grams per cubic centimeter. This value could change
somewhat once researchers refine the shape of the 33-by-13-km body and
accurately determine the asteroid's volume.