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After traveling 1.7 billion miles over four years, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has begun sending images of the asteroid Vesta back to Earth. NASA will begin the investigation of Vesta in more detail after it maneuvers the spacecraft into an orbit about 1,700 miles from the asteroid.
Here is the first full-frame photo of Vesta taken on July 24 from a distance of about 3,200 miles. Vesta is abou 114 million miles from Earth.
"We have been calling Vesta the smallest terrestrial planet," said Chris Russell, Dawn's principal investigator at UCLA. "The latest imagery provides much justification for our expectations. They show that a variety of processes were once at work on the surface of Vesta and provide extensive evidence for Vesta's planetary aspirations."
This view of the dark side of Vesta was taken from a distance of about 3,200 miles.
NASA describes the instruments brought aboard Dawn:
"In addition to the framing camera, Dawn's instruments include the gamma ray and neutron detector and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. The gamma ray and neutron detector uses 21 sensors with a very wide field of view to measure the energy of subatomic particles emitted by the elements in the upper yard (meter) of the asteroid's surface. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will measure the surface mineralogy of both Vesta and Dawn's next target, the dwarf planet Ceres."
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA