Dawn Departs Giant Asteroid Vesta
September 6, 2012

Saying Goodbye To Vesta, Dawn Spacecraft Now Heads Towards Ceres

[ Watch the Video: Dawn's Greatest Hits at Vesta ]

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has escaped the gravitational pull of the giant asteroid Vesta and is on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres.

The Dawn mission, supposed to last nearly a decade, has been on a journey to study Vesta and Ceres, celestial bodies believed to have accreted early in the history of the solar system. Both speak to conditions and processes present in the early formation, but they developed into two very different kinds of bodies. By studying both with the same complement of instruments, the Dawn team hopes to compare the different evolutionary path each took as well as create a comprehensive picture of the early solar system. Dawn was launched September 27, 2007 and is expected to complete its primary mission in July 2015.

Dawn reached orbit around Vesta on July 15, 2011, and has mapped this previously uncharted world, revealing an exotic and diverse planetary building block. These findings are helping scientists unlock some of the secrets of how the solar system, including our own Earth, was formed.

Dawn spiraled away from Vesta at 11:26pm PDT on September 4, 2012. Communications from the spacecraft via NASA's Deep Space Network confirmed the departure and that the spacecraft is now traveling toward Ceres.

"As we respectfully say goodbye to Vesta and reflect on the amazing discoveries over the past year, we eagerly look forward to the next phase of our adventure at Ceres, where even more exciting discoveries await,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.