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NASA spacecraft orbits giant asteroid (photos)

NASA expects that its Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit on July 15 around the asteroid Vesta which lies between Mars and Jupiter.
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NASA reports that its Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first photo since it entered into orbit on Friday around the giant asteroid Vesta. The asteroid lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - 117 million miles from Earth. It took Dawn almost four years to reach Vesta and will spend about a year studying the asteroid which is thought to be the source of many meteors which have struck Earth. Then, it will complete its mission by traveling to the dwarf planet Ceres.

NASA scientists will spend about three weeks getting the Dawn spacecraft accustomed to its new surroundings around Vesta before beginning its study of the giant asteroid in earnest.

Here's the first photo of Vesta returned by Dawn after it reached orbit.

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

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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"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 anaglyph image of the asteroid Vesta was taken on July 9, 2011 by the framing camera instrument aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft.

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

 

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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Vesta is about 300 miles in diameter with a surface area about the size of Arizona.

Here is Vesta compared in size to other know rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Vesta spins around once every 5 hours, 20 minutes. It's nearly a sphereoid shape with a huge chunk blasted from its south pole. Vesta is sometimes called 4 Vesta because it was the fourth object discovered in the asteroid belt in 1807.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/ESA

 

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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4 of 9 Andy Smith/ZDNet

NASA expects that its Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit on July 15 around the asteroid Vesta which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study the giant asteroid for about a year from a distance expected to be around 9,900 miles before it moves on to the dwarf planet Ceres.

Here is a recent photo from Dawn, taken on July 9 from about 26,000 miles. Each pixel represents about 2.4 miles.

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

 

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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5 of 9 Andy Smith/ZDNet

Here's how Dawn looked in NASA's "clean room" on Earth as it was being prepared for launch.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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6 of 9 Andy Smith/ZDNet
A Delta II rocket sent Dawn on its journey on Sept. 27, 2007, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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This artist's conception shows what Dawn would look like as it moves between its two targets, Vesta and Ceres. This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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8 of 9 Andy Smith/ZDNet
This what was Vesta looked like from the Dawn spacecraft from about 62,000 miles on July 1. This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com
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9 of 9 Andy Smith/ZDNet
This image of Vesta was taken from about 95,000 miles on June 24. This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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