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The NEAR Challenge Overview

Statements on the Record:

NEAR Challenge Results
Final report and conclusions.

NEAR Challenge Preliminary Report
Preliminary analysis of images.

NEAR Challenge Update Image of predicted 'soft landing' satellites released..

NEAR Challenge Update
Spacecraft delayed. Prediction revised to account for lack of stable orbits

NEAR Challenge Update
Prediction reiterated.

Near Challenge Issued
Details and rational for the challenge.

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.

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