In 1997 Meta Research issued the NEAR challenge.
Specifically, astronomer Tom Van Flandern predicted that the NEAR spacecraft
would, during its close approach to Eros, discover that the asteroid has satellites.
The challenge was significant because the conventional theory for the origin of
asteroids makes capturing satellites nearly impossible. On the other hand,
the Exploded Planet Hypothesis, a theory with an alternative explanation for the
origin of asteroids, mandates that nearly all asteroids in deep space will
have numerous satellites. Here was a rare opportunity to make a
distinguishing prediction, testing both hypotheses.
Beyond the EPH, there is observational evidence to support the notion that
asteroids have satellites. Data collected during solar occultations by
numerous independent observers point to this conclusion. And the spacecraft Galileo
discovered the satellite Dactyl when it flew by the asteroid Ida (an event also
predicted in advance by Van Flandern). Still the mainstream theory for the
origin of asteroids has remained firmly in place and Dactyl is viewed as an anomaly.
In January 1999, NEAR returned distant photos of Eros. Troubles with the
spacecraft pushed the date for orbit insertion back to February 2000. Early
photos showed Eros has no satellites over 100 meters in diameter, but the NEAR
Challenge called for the discovery of 3 satellites of at least 1 meter
diameter. The issue was still very much unresolved.
However, the 1999 images did show that Eros had a very irregular conical
shape. This shape would make any close orbits unstable causing any satellites to
have either reached escape velocity or gradually decayed until they touched down
on the asteroid's surface. At this time Van Flandern revised
his prediction to include the possibility that all discovered satellites
would be found lying on the asteroids surface. The 1999 June 15 Meta Research
Bulletin contained a cover image by artist Boris Starosta illustrating what
a landed satellite might look like.
By early 2000, close up images of Eros showed no large visible satellites in orbit.
However, numerous large boulders were found
lying on the surface of the asteroid, many with trail marks leading
(sometimes uphill) to their final resting position. Mainstream astronomers are now struggling
to hypothesize a geological origin for these object. Readers are encouraged to
draw their own conclusions.