NASA’s Dawn Falls Toward Vesta

Dawn sees the “Snowman” craters for the first time


The truth is out there waiting to be discovered”

Astronomy News – Dawn, NASA’s asteroid hunting spacecraft, recently circled Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the solar system, before taking a closer look at an asteroid first viewed by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers on March 29, 1807. The picture above is one of the latest images taken by Dawn of three craters on the surface of Vesta called “Snowman”that are located in the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. The associated picture below is of craters visible in the southern equatorial region of the giant asteroid taken at a height of around 3,200 miles above the surface. Currently astronomers indicate Dawn is about 1,800 miles above the asteroid, and is slowly getting closer to the giant asteroid, while it takes additional pictures we expect NASA to release in a few days.

The southern regions of Vesta don’t look like a vacation spot


Dawn of a new age of private space exploration

The real work for NASA scientists begins once Dawn begins orbiting Vesta at a height of around 1,700 miles, this orbital height will provide astronomers with an in depth view of the surface of the giant asteroid they can use to begin unravelling the current mystery surrounding the birth of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Planetary astronomers looking into the birth of our solar system believe Vesta, and similar large asteroids in the asteroid belt, could be the source of the large number of meteorites that fell on Earth in the past. This asteroid and similar large asteroids in the asteroid belt could also be potential planet-killers we here on Earth need to be aware of if we want to possibly avoid future collisions.

What is this view of Mars worth?

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is circling closer to this large asteroid, which is currently at a distance of around 114 million miles from Earth and has travelled a total distance of around 1.7 billion miles during its journey through the inner solar system. All of this work has been done in order to give the human journey to the beginning of the universe a closer look at Mars, Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will travel to Ceres after it has finished taking a closer look at Vesta and use its on board instruments to detect subtle changes in the gravity field of Ceres. The data on the subtle changes occurring in the gravity field of Ceres can help astronomers determine some of the internal structure of Ceres by studying the mass distributed in the gravity field of each large body close to the dwarf planet.

Dawn next visits Ceres

Dawn will orbit Vesta for one year and then depart for Ceres, where it will arrive sometime in 2015. The present view we have of this large asteroid shows a dark world that has been bombarded by other asteroids throughout its history. Astronomers will now study this asteroid for clues to the formation of the early inner solar system and the Earth. Future images and analysis of data collected by Dawn, once it reaches Ceres, could also provide the human journey to the beginning of the universe with clues to the reason why life exists on Earth. The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz.; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany; DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Berlin; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. More information on Dawn and its mission to Mars, Vesta and Ceres can be found by visiting Photos displayed here courtesy of NASA. If you love this blog. Check out this astronomy website, which I have created at

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

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