This first image of asteroid 253 Mathilde, returned by the NEAR spacecraft just before 10:00 AM EDT on June 27, 1997, was taken from a distance of 1800 kilometers (1120 miles). Sunlight is coming from the upper right. The part of the asteroid shown is about 59 kilometers (36 miles) across, and the scale is approximately 230 meters (780 feet) per pixel. The surface is heavily cratered, and the large shadowed area on the left may be a single impact gouge well over 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep. The angular form of the edge of the shadowed area suggests that large impacts may have spalled large pieces off the asteroid. This asteroid is very dark, reflecting only about 4% of the light falling on it, but was imaged easily by the sensitive NEAR multispectral camera
Built and managed by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, NEAR was the first spacecraft launched in NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, small-scale planetary missions. See the NEAR web page at http://near.jhuapl.edu/ for more details.