NASA's Dawn probe reveals up-close images of Vesta asteroid

Posted Jul 19, 2011 by Andrew Moran
After four years in space and travelling 1.7 billion miles (188 million kilometres), NASA's Dawn spacecraft has captured images of the Vesta asteroid, which many believe is the source of many meteorites landing on Earth.
NASA s Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17  2011. It was taken fr...
NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17, 2011. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles (1.4 kilometers).
On March 29, 1807, the Vesta asteroid was discovered by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers. It was named after Vesta, the Roman virgin goddess of home and hearth.
Vesta, which maintains nine percent of the mass of the entire asteroid belt, has a diameter of 330 miles (530 kilometres) and is the brightest asteroid.
The International Astronomical Union considered in 2006 Vesta as a planetary candidate in our solar system, but they concluded that our solar system consists of 12 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Charon and 2003 UB313.
On Friday, NASA’s Dawn space probe became the first craft to enter the orbit around an object between Jupiter and Mars. Dawn, which was 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometres) away from Vesta, took close-up images – Earth telescopes haven’t been able to capture such detail as Dawn has.
Dawn travelled at 4.2 miles (6.7 kilometres) per second, or 1.7 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometres), because of its propulsive acceleration that is the largest of any spacecraft. NASA scientists believe Dawn entered orbit at 10 p.m. PDT.
“We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator from the University of California, 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.”
The $466 million mission will continue for the next three weeks where it will capture more images, search for moons around the asteroid and investigate its physical properties, including its gravitational pull.
“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,” said Dawn chief engineer and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission manager, Marc Rayman.
Following its one-year orbit around Vesta, it will then travel to the dwarf planet Ceres (estimated arrival is February 2015).