Last Friday, after travelling some 1.7 billion miles, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It entered orbit with “grace,” according to scientists.
“I'm slowly spiraling into a smaller orbit, about 13,000 kilometers from Vesta today and approaching it at 23 meters per second!!” Dawn wrote.on its Twitter account
Monday, NASA released the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta, which “Dawn” will explore until 2012, before heading off to Ceres.
The close-up images show the 330-mile-long asteroid’s complex surface in incredible detail, including some of the earliest events of the asteroid’s history.
Vesta, which is currently some 117 million miles from earth, is believed to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth.
In August, the Dawn team will begin gathering science data, which may help scientists understand the earliest years of our solar system, and pave the way for human space missions going forward.
“We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles.
“This region of space has been ignored for far too long.”
This photo shows the size of Vesta compared to other asteroids. Pretty gigantic.