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Tuesday, December 29, 1998 Published at 18:59 GMT


Close-up of Eros

Two images of Eros - fragments from the solar systems violent past

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Pictures of only the third asteroid to be imaged from close-up have been sent back to Earth by the unfortunate Near spacecraft.

In spite of an aborted engine burn that postponed the arrival of the Near (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) spacecraft with asteroid Eros in January, some pictures of the asteroid were obtained during a late December flyby.

[ image: Artist's impression of Near at Eros]
Artist's impression of Near at Eros
Asteroids have a mysterious origin. They number thousands of objects that chiefly orbit the Sun in-between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter.

They may be the leftovers from the formation of the planets. Some of them may be the shattered fragments of larger bodies that were broken during impacts when the solar system was young.

Near took 1100 images of Eros during a two-hour encounter during which time Eros turned half a rotation. The closest image was obtained from a distance of 3,300 miles (5,300 km.)

Near and Eros are now travelling in separate orbits around the Sun. Plans are being made for a rendezvous between them sometime between August 1999 and April 2000.

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