Ask Dr. Notebook

Q: I've heard that someone claims to own the asteroid on which NASA's spacecraft NEAR Shoemaker landed last week. Is that possible?

A: Although a 1967 U.N. treaty prohibits claims of sovereignty in space by countries, it may not apply to individuals. "That's my asteroid," insists space-development consultant Gregory Nemitz of the potato-shaped rock, Eros. In a filing last March, Nemitz claimed the asteroid and 31 miles of space around it. For now Nemitz welcomes NEAR, free of charge, but he's hoping that someday, the rock 196 million miles from Earth will prove a gold mine. He'd like to develop Eros...

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