Public Release: 

Northwestern scientist can comment on asteroid as mission's end nears

Northwestern University

EVANSTON, Ill. -- As the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) mission continues a lower altitude orbit in anticipation of its Feb. 12 controlled descent, Northwestern University geologist Mark S. Robinson, a member of the NEAR imaging team, is available for comment on the images and discoveries from the mission's yearlong orbit around Eros.

On Jan. 31 at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Robinson, research assistant professor of geological sciences, will join a panel of scientists declaring the NEAR mission a 100 percent success in meeting all of its scientific objectives. In addition to discussing what has been accomplished, the panel will explain the details of the controlled descent to the asteroid's surface scheduled for Feb. 12, 2001.

Robinson is processing and analyzing NEAR's color pictures in order to help create the first detailed global geologic map of any asteroid. He also is on the imaging team for the upcoming U.S. mission to Mercury and has worked for other missions such as Clementine and Galileo.

During the Jan. 31 panel, Robinson will discuss the nature and distribution of regolith, the loose powdered rock covering the surface of Eros. Contrary to expectations, the mission's images have shown the asteroid to be covered with a thick layer of regolith, as deep as 50 meters in some places.

With a special camera called the MultiSpectral Imager (MSI), NEAR has taken more than 150,000 images, some with a resolution of better than one meter per pixel. With NEAR in a low altitude orbit until its descent, the MSI will continue to snap images of the surface, producing its highest resolution data so far. The imaging team hopes to capture some images as close as 500 meters above the surface of Eros.

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A media advisory by NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in Laurel, Md., can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/releases/2001/index.html. APL is conducting the scientific study of the near-Earth asteroid. New images are posted daily at the mission's Web site: http://near.jhuapl.edu/.

Mark Robinson can be reached at 847-467-1825 or through Megan Fellman at 847-491-3115.

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