UT Students Await Asteroidal Valentine

KNOXVILLE — Two University of Tennessee graduate students in geology may get a rocky valentine from space on Monday.

Heather Gastineau and Josh Chamot are studying a new theory of how heat affects asteroids and meteorites.

They hope to learn more about those effects on Valentine’s Day, when NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft reaches the asteroid known as Eros.

NEAR, launched in 1996, will make an infrared map of the shoe-shaped rock that may provide new data about Eros’ composition.

“NEAR uses infrared sensing that should allow us to interpret the types of minerals on the surface of Eros,” Gastineau said.

The NEAR mission ends in 2001. Chamot said data from Monday’s rendezvous would be compared to that from meteorites.

“We’re hoping to see similarities between the data NEAR gets and pieces of meteorites we’re examining,” Chamot said.

Dr. Harry McSween, a UT geology professor overseeing the students’ work, said Eros is in a near-Earth orbit, making it easier to study. The asteroid is eight miles wide, eight miles thick and 21 miles long with at least one prominent impact crater on it, he said.