July 18, 2011

Dawn Returns First Close-up Image Of Vesta

NASA's Dawn spacecraft returned the first close-up image of the asteroid Vesta on Sunday.

The space agency said its spacecraft became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter on Friday, July 15.

NASA said the image shows Vesta in greater detail than ever before.  Vesta is 330 miles in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt.

Dawn entered the asteroid's orbit within about 9,900 miles between the spacecraft and Vesta.

"We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system," Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a press release.

"This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta's history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons."

Dawn has traveled 1.7 billion miles for four years at a velocity of 4.2 miles per second to reach the asteroid.Â

"Dawn slipped gently into orbit with the same grace it has displayed during its years of ion thrusting through interplanetary space," Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a press release.

"It is fantastically exciting that we will begin providing humankind its first detailed views of one of the last unexplored worlds in the inner solar system."

Dawn will spend a year orbiting Vesta until it takes off towards its next destination, the dwarf planet Ceres.  The spacecraft is expected to reach this dwarf planet in February 2015.


Image Caption: This is the first image obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft after successfully entering orbit around Vesta. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


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