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  • Dawn Spacecraft Steadily Approaches Target Asteroid
    Posted by Heather Goss 6:13 PM on Jun 14, 2011

    NASA’s Dawn spacecraft inches ever closer to Vesta, the target asteroid it should reach in mid-July.  The mission team released their first image of Vesta in early May, showing a bright spot in the distance, still approximately 750,000 miles ahead. 

    Yesterday, NASA released a video comprised of 20 looped images that show the asteroid rotating about 30 degrees, taken on June 1 to further hone the spacecraft’s navigation as it prepares for orbital insertion. The images show a dark spot that scientists believe matches something they call “Feature B,” seen on pictures of Vesta taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The team hopes that as their images get clearer, they’ll see more familiar features like this to help assist in Dawn’s approach.  

    Marc Rayman, Chief Engineer of the Dawn mission, recently spoke at a JPL “Tweetup” event for a group of 100 lucky space exploration fans chosen by lottery.  Rayman explained that asteroids like Vesta, and Dawn’s second target, Ceres, are “the last unexplored worlds in the solar system.”  He noted that Vesta features a huge crater impact nearly 250 miles wide, with a rise nearly 8 miles high in the center.  This kind of impact may allow Dawn to “see” into the mantle and find a wealth of information about how it was formed.

    Tags: os99, vesta, dawn, asteroid, ceres

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