Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 4 (April 2001)

Asteroid Adventure

Now Showing: Asteroid 433 Eros, in Color." If NASA had its own marquee, this is how it might announce a recent visualization project by scientists in its Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Using more than 8 million surface observations gathered by the space agency's NEAR Laser Rangefinder (NLR) imaging device, the Goddard visualization team generated a detailed 3D representation of the near-Earth asteroid Eros. In this view, a false-color map depicts gravity slope, which is the angle of the asteroid terrain relative to its local "down" direction. "Because Eros is so irregular, 'down' is not a constant," explains Gregory Shirah, who developed the visualization with colleagues in Goddard's visualization studio. The red regions represent areas where a ball would roll fastest. In the blue areas, a ball would tend to stay put. By modeling Eros's shape in this way, scientists can better understand the asteroid's internal structure and gain context for interpreting new images.
-Diana Phillips Mahoney