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WASHINGTON -- Space scientists are squaring off with asteroid Eros.
The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft has eyed unusual square craters on Asteroid 433 Eros, about 109 million miles (176 million kilometers) from Earth.
The NEAR photo find suggests that the space rock is riddled with a system of faults, fractures and cracks. Such craters, scientists say, offer new clues to the age and history of Eros.
"There are weird-shaped craters on Eros. It's turned out to be a very complex place," said Olivier Barnouin-Jha, a crater expert on the NEAR project at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
APL built the NEAR, which was launched in February 1996, and serves as mission control for the asteroid-surveying spacecraft.
Barnouin-Jha told SPACE.com that the odd-shaped craters appear to have been formed within preexisting faults on Eros. As the craters were created, those faults served to contain the shock wave resulting from the explosive smacks into Eros' surface, he said.