At a press conference on February 17, 2000, mission scientists for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission exuded the air of kids in a candy shop as they discussed the latest results from asteroid Eros. After less than a week in orbit, NEAR has already returned dazzling pictures that have surprised and delighted researchers.
“At first I was stunned speechless by the beauty of this asteroidal landscape,” said Mark Robinson, a member of the NEAR imaging team from Northwestern University. “Once I got over that, the geology took over.” The first images from NEAR showed that Eros has an ancient surface covered with craters, grooves, layers, house-sized boulders and other complex features. “This is not just another rock floating out in space,” continued Robinson. “There’s a lot of neat geology going on.” “There are tantalizing hints that the asteroid has a layered structure, like a sheet of plywood.” said Andrew Cheng, of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, who serves as the NEAR mission’s lead scientist. “These layers appear to be very flat and appear to run end-to-end. This could come about if Eros was once part of a larger body, perhaps a fragment of a planet.”