Asteroid Vesta: surface of huge asteroid has mysterious dark spot
Asteroid Vesta has been coming into focus as NASA's Dawn probe comes in for close-up photos, but a mysterious dark spot has scientists scratching their heads.
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Before orbiting Vesta on July 16, Dawn will gently slow down to about 75 mph (120 kph). NASA should release more images on a weekly basis, with photos available more frequently once the spacecraft begins collecting science at Vesta, agency officials said.Skip to next paragraph
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"Vesta is coming more and more into focus," said Andreas Nathues, framing camera lead investigator, based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. "Dawn's framing camera is working exactly as anticipated."
Next stop: Asteroid belt
Vesta is located in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will orbit and study Vesta for a year, then move on to investigate the belt's largest body, the dwarf planet Ceres. The spacecraft will arrive at this behemoth in 2015.
Scientists hope Dawn will help unlock secrets of our solar system's early history by studying these two icons of the asteroid belt. Dawn's mission will be to compare and contrast the two giant bodies, which were shaped by different forces.
The spacecraft's science instruments will measure surface composition, topography and texture. Dawn will also measure the tug of gravity from Vesta and Ceres to learn more about their internal structures.
By the end of its mission, Dawn will have travelled 3 billion miles (5 billion km) since its launch in September 2007.