Anniversary: Science marks 10 years since asteroid landing

The launch of the NEAR spacecraftSATURDAY, FEBRUARY 12: Prepare yourselves, science buffs: Today is the 10th anniversary of the NEAR spacecraft landing on the Eros asteroid—the first time in history that a man-made spacecraft has completed such a task. The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) orbit mission had actually begun on this date in 2000, but after having had a successful first year orbiting the asteroid—and collecting 10 times more data than expected—scientists gave NEAR one more push. (Check out NASA’s NEAR information page.) The solar-panel-laden craft fed scientists photos and scientific readings for two weeks, straight from the surface of an asteroid.

From the beginning, NEAR made history; NASA’s first mission to orbit an asteroid succeeded well beyond anyone’s expectations. Perhaps even more astounding is the fact that NEAR worked furiously for a full year at 196 million miles from Earth, using its x-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, near-infrared imaging spectrograph, magnetometer and more to full extent. (NASA’s Eros page is filled with pictures and information about the asteroid, all courtesy of NEAR.)

Prior to NEAR’s decent, scientists studied the 21-mile-long asteroid’s shape, mass, composition and surface. Scientists had hoped to answer questions about the universe, planetary compositions and more through NEAR’s mission. They got lots of data to ponder, but more questions were raised than answered. According to NEAR’s imaging team leader, processes occurring on the asteroid have never been seen on the moon or anywhere else. Inexplicable gravitational pulls and fluid-like forms—despite the longstanding absence of water on Eros—were especially bizarre to scientists.

News reports have been abuzz recently with a collision of space and religion, although this time, the collision is happening onscreen: The video game “Dead Space 2,” released last month, utilizes a fake religion that some say mocks Scientology. The Dead Space religion, known as Unitology, bears several similarities to Scientology. Although Dead Space’s creator insists no particular religion is being mocked, others aren’t so sure. (Read more on an MTV blog.)

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