On June 27, 1997, NASA’s NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft flew by an asteroid named 253 Mathilde. NEAR, which stands for Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, launched in 1996 to go orbit another asteroid named 433 Eros, and it flew by Mathilde along the way. The spacecraft was hibernating in a low-power state for nearly 16 months before the mission’s scientists woke it up to look at Mathilde. It whizzed by the asteroid going over 22,000 mph and came within 750 miles of its surface.
The flyby lasted about 25 minutes, and the spacecraft took hundreds of photos along the way – enough to image 60 percent of the asteroid’s surface. Scientists were stoked about the quality of the images from this super-fast flyby. They found that Mathilde had a super lumpy and irregular shape, and with a totally battered surface, this asteroid likely had a violent history of collisions with other rocky objects floating around the solar system.
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