Clouds block Maryland view of spacecraft NEAR's close encounter with Earth seen elsewhere

January 24, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Clouds ruined the view from Maryland, but observers in the South, West Coast and Hawaii said they saw the Maryland-built NEAR spacecraft early yesterday as it zoomed within 330 miles of Earth.

NEAR (for Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) flew by between 1: 30 a.m. and 3: 30 a.m. EST, at up to 29,000 mph. Controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory made it visible briefly by reflecting sunlight from its four solar panels onto major U.S. cities.

NEAR was launched two years ago and flew past the asteroid Mathilde in June. It returned to use Earth's gravity as a springboard to reach the asteroid Eros on Jan. 10, 1999.

All systems functioned as planned, APL officials, and NEAR's snapshots of southern Africa were expected to be released Monday.

"Things were being executed smoothly and without any problems," said NEAR scientist Scott Murchie. "It's a really good omen for the rendezvous with Eros."

By breakfast time this morning, NEAR was expected to be 478,000 miles from Earth, or about twice the distance from Earth to the moon. Looking back from that distance, Murchie said, Earth would appear about twice the size of a full moon.

Pub Date: 1/24/98

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