The Dawn spacecraft is now in orbit around the main belt asteroid Vesta! Yay!
The spacecraft entered orbit around the main belt asteroid on Saturday, July 15. Two days later — today — it snapped this spectacular high-res image:
[Click to enprotoplanetate.]
Wow, what a mess! As expected, it’s littered with craters, but there are some interesting things to note. Some craters appear to be very deep, while others are shallow — that indicates a different type of terrain (asteroidain?) where the impactors hit (although in some cases it might be a lighting effect; a more direct sunlight angle makes craters look shallow). The grooves I mentioned in a previous post are everywhere, some looking more like scarps (cliffs) now. And look at that huge cliff on the upper right! I’ll be very curious to see that area at different angles. Is it part of a big basin, a collapse feature? Or is it a cliff caused by cracking in the surface? By the way, that lump in the center casting a shadow to the left is actually a mountain or mound of some kind well over 100 kilometers across.
The resolution is stunning; each pixel in the high-res version is about 1.4 km (0.9 miles) across — the asteroid itself is 530 km (330 miles) wide. Dawn is orbiting at a distance of 16,000 km (9900 miles; a bit more than the diameter of the Earth) and will slowly lower its orbit over time. Vesta’s mass is uncertain, so engineers played it safe and put it into a high orbit. This will allow an accurate mass to be determined, and then scientists and engineers can calculate how much thrust is needed to safely close in. That will take some time, about three weeks. During that time Dawn scientists will search the region around Vesta for tiny moons. None has ever been seen from Earth, but there’s nothing like being there.
… and I’ll add, we almost didn’t go. Back in 2005/6, this mission was actually canceled by NASA, causing quite the stir in the astronomy community. However, a strong voice was raised against this cutback, and Dawn was back on. After a long, long journey, it’s now where it belongs: in deep space, exploring, doing science, and expanding our frontiers.
I can hope the same will be true for JWST.
Links to this Post
- Some Tidbits « Esoteric and godless musings from a locked away sage. | July 18, 2011
- Dawn captures first orbital image of asteroid Vesta | Journal of Technology and Economic Development | Future Technology | Green Technology | Military Technology | Business | Trading | Finance | Computer | Robots | Entertainment | Games | GPS | Software | | July 18, 2011
- Dawn Envía las Primeras Imágenes de Vesta. | Pablo Della Paolera | July 18, 2011
- Vesta: The Last Remaining Planetary Embryo « astrobites | July 19, 2011
- Txch Today: AAAs roadside juice | Txchnologist | September 6, 2012