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  • Dawn Takes First Image of Target Asteroid
    Posted by Heather Goss 6:23 PM on May 11, 2011

    The NASA spacecraft Dawn has sent back the first images of its target, the 330 mile-diameter asteroid Vesta.  Launched in the fall of 2007, Dawn is due for orbital insertion around Vesta on July 16, 2011, where it will begin taking multi-angle images to create a topographical map.

    blog post photo
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

    This image was taking on May 3 when the spacecraft was approximately 752,000 miles from the asteroid; the location of Vesta with regard to the background stars will help the scientific team make the proper navigation as it closes the final distance. Dawn will orbit at about 120 miles above the surface.  

    After one year, Dawn will leave Vesta and cruise towards another object in the asteroid belt, the even more massive, 590-mile-diameter Ceres.  Ceres is actually a dwarf planet -- the only one in the asteroid belt.  Vesta is also more than just an asteroid; it’s considered a protoplanet.  Together, Vesta and Ceres contain just over 40 percent of the asteroid belt's mass.  As NASA noted in their press release today, “Gathering information about these two icons of the asteroid belt will help scientists unlock the secrets of our solar system’s early history.”

    The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has some more photos for you today.  Its HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera has taken some of the most detailed photos of the Mars surface ever taken and through its HiWISH program, has allowed regular people to point the camera anywhere they choose.  Today the HiRISE team at the University of Arizona have released a batch of new images, including this image below of bedform changes at Aureum Chaos showing the “chaotic,” heavily eroded terrain.  See more images at their website.

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    Image: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

    Tags: os99, dawn, nasa, vesta, ceres, hirise, mro

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