Portrait Of An Asteroid

  • Released Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:49PM
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Not all asteroids look the same. In fact, the appearance of an asteroid can vary depending on factors like its age, composition and how it evolved. In 2000, after a four-year journey from Earth, NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft began circling Eros, the second-largest near-Earth asteroid. Researchers believe that Eros is a pristine leftover from when the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago. To learn more about Eros, a laser rangefinder instrument aboard the spacecraft pinged the 20-mile-long chunk of rock with approximately 8 million infrared pulses over the course of a year. The light-based measurements yielded information about the height and shape of features on the asteroid’s surface, allowing scientists to construct a detailed 3-D model of its topography. The model helped scientists study the asteroid’s many craters and offered insights into its internal structure. Watch the video for a tour of Eros.

This model of Eros was created using millions of data points collected by NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft while in orbit around the asteroid.

Eros is pitted with over 100,000 craters, the result of billions of years of impacts.

Eros is pitted with over 100,000 craters, the result of billions of years of impacts.

The large crater at the center, named Psyche, is three miles in diameter.

The large crater at the center, named Psyche, is three miles in diameter.

Eros' largest crater, Himeros (top), is six miles in diameter. It’s so big that its sides caved in, leaving behind a saddle-shaped depression.

Eros' largest crater, Himeros (top), is six miles in diameter. It’s so big that its sides caved in, leaving behind a saddle-shaped depression.


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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio