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Nasa's Dawn probe orbits distant asteroid

The Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first picture of the Vesta asteroid, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, after entering its orbit on Friday
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1 of 6 Nasa/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Vesta asteroid

Nasa's Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first photo since it entered into orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta on Friday.

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 it will spend about a year studying the asteroid, which is thought to be the source of many meteors that have struck Earth. It will complete its mission by travelling 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.

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Anaglyph image of the asteroid Vesta

"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 9 July, 2011 by the framing camera instrument on board the Dawn spacecraft.

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Vesta compared to other asteroids

Vesta is about 300 miles in diameter with a surface area about the size of Arizona.

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

Vesta spins around once every five hours, 20 minutes. It's nearly spherical in shape with a huge chunk blasted from its south pole.

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Dawn in clean room at Nasa

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

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Dawn probe blasts off

A Delta II rocket sent Dawn on its journey on 27 September, 2007, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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Artist's impression of Dawn probe

This artist's impression shows what Dawn would look like as it moves between its two targets, Vesta and Ceres.

This story originally appeared as Gallery: Dawn spacecraft orbits giant asteroid - first photo on ZDNet.com.


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