Dawn Approaches Vesta

First Vesta Image from Spacecraft Dawn
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft, which launched in September 2007, is approaching the asteroid Vesta, its first target, after a billion mile journey. Dawn is expected to enter a 2,700 km high orbit on 16 July 2011, and gradually approach closer and closer.

This image of Vesta was taken by Dawn’s framing camera on 3 May 2011, when Dawn was about 1.2 million kilometers from Vesta. Vesta is 530 km in diameter. Within the asteroid belt, only the dwarf planet Ceres is larger.

Dawn will begin gathering data in August.

As the spacecraft spirals closer and closer to Vesta, it will capture images that will let scientists reconstruct a topographical map of the asteroid. Dawn will orbit Vesta for a year before departing for its second target, Ceres. Dawn is expected to enter orbit around Ceres in 2015 and begin gathering data.

Information about the topography and surface composition of these two unique bodies will help scientists unlock the secrets of our Solar System.


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