Eros is not just some funny Valentine. Eros is a planet. At least, it is a "planetoid" or large asteroid, 25.3 by 9.1 by 8.8 miles in size, shaped kind of like a penis, if you squint, and spinning on its own axis. It was discovered by a Carl Gustav Witt in 1898. Obviously while Carl was playing with his telescope, he had sex on the brain, so he named the planet Eros. The Planet 433 Eros, to be exact, is especially intriguing to astronomers because, despite its large elliptical orbit, it comes closer to the Earth than any other body of comparable size, except the moon. Eros is also one of the most elongated asteroid/planetoids in our solar system, the better to penetrate our hearts.
Recently, NASAs NEAR spacecraft made astronomical history when it swung into orbit around this little dildo-shaped planetoid, taking beautiful eerie photos and movies of Eros in space, some of which reveal a heart-shaped depression about three miles long.
The $224-million flight's successful arrival is especially gratifying to NASA, which lost two probes at Mars last year. Well, better to be lucky in Love than to land in the middle of War.
"Over the next year, we are going to figure out a lot of new information about Eros in particular and asteroids in general," says NEAR project scientist Andy Cheng. "We are looking back toward a time that is very close to the beginning of the solar system, which is something like 4.5 billion years ago." Hesiod would have agreed.
At the upper left is a portion of the ridge that nearly wraps around Eros' waist. Near the center of the image, oriented from the upper right to lower left, are several broad troughs, or grooves, about 200 meters (656 feet) wide. The three boulders on the far horizon are about 80 meters (262 feet) across - each nearly the size of a football field. The area shown in the image is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) high. To put the asteroid's size into human perspective, a famous New York landmark, the Empire State Building, is shown inset at the lower left.
Information courtesy of NASA.
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