Home > Asteroids > Now Showing from a Spacecraft Near You – The Asteroid Vesta !

Now Showing from a Spacecraft Near You – The Asteroid Vesta !

While the last space shuttle mission dominated the news in July the arrival of NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft in orbit around the second largest asteroid in our solar system on July 16th seems to have passed almost unnoticed. This exciting mission looks at the early formation and development of the planetary bodies in our solar system some 4.5 billion years ago by visiting the proto-planets Vesta and Ceres which reside in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The development of Vesta and Ceres into much larger planetary bodies was halted by the effects of Jupiters gravity as the giant gas planet expanded, so they are effectively frozen in time and retain important chemical and geological information about the first building blocks of planets like Earth, Mars and Venus. While Vesta is a dry, cratered and largely basaltic body with evidence of past lava flows Ceres is altogether different being covered in a dusty clay-like surface with evidence of water, possibly trapped in a thick water-ice mantle.

Vesta – NASA/Dawn

Dawn will spend a year orbiting around the 330 mile wide Vesta taking high resolution images with its 260 metres per pixel framing camera, measuring the gravity field and exploring her makeup with the aid of various spectrometers. The spacecraft will then move onto a rendezvous with Ceres in February 2015 and the mission will end in July 2015. You can follow the progress of the mission here http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/ and there are some stunning images starting to be published here on the Dawn Image of the Day pages http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/image_of_the_day_Aug11.asp

You can always have a look at Vesta yourself of course through binoculars or a telescope. Vesta is currently moving westward through the constellation Capricornus low in the south and should be around magnitude 5.6 having reached opposition on August 5th.

Location of Vesta as on 19-8-11 (Stellarium 0.11.0)

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Categories: Asteroids
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