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Vesta ready for its close-up

576312main_pia14317-full_700.jpgPosted on behalf of George Wigmore.

Spiraling away from earth towards its rocky target, NASA’s Dawn mission is poised to start exploring one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System. These ancient time capsules could give insight into the formation of planets, and the origins of the solar system.

Entering orbit around Vesta, the Solar System’s second largest asteroid at 500 kilometers wide, the spacecraft has just started sending back images taken on the 24 July. The three craters visible on the left of the asteroid have been nicknamed the ‘Snowman’. Snapped from 5,200 kilometers away, next week Dawn will move in for a closer look.

The spacecraft will continue orbiting the giant asteroid for a year, before moving on to Ceres, which is even bigger than Vesta at nearly 1,000 kilometers wide. Dawn will reach Ceres in 2015, shedding light on what’s underneath its icy surface.

Image courtesy of NASA.

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