Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .

Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around Vesta
by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) Jul 20, 2011

Anaglyph of the south polar region of the asteroid Vesta.

After almost four years traveling through space, the NASA Dawn spacecraft reached its destination and entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta on 16 July 2011. On board Dawn, among other instruments, is a Framing Camera for imaging the surface of the asteroid.

Using data from this camera system, scientists at the German Aerospace Center will create detailed maps and elevation models of this celestial body, which is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and help shed some light on the history of the Solar System.

A mountain, impact craters, areas with furrows and bulges - the first stereo images from DLR are already revealing excellent views of the surface of the asteroid Vesta in 3D. The data that Dawn is obtaining from its orbit at a distance of 16,000 kilometres from Vesta, is still not adequate for high-precision elevation models, but it is being used to test the data handling process.

"We are just getting an initial impression and now know what to look out for when the camera starts surveying the asteroid from lower orbits," says Ralf Jaumann, Head of the Planetary Geology Department at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. In August, the spacecraft will start collecting data at an altitude of 2770 to 2720 kilometres above the asteroid's surface and, over the course of a year, will spiral downwards to an altitude of a little under 200 kilometres. As has been done on missions to Mars, the Moon or Mercury, DLR researchers in Berlin will then map the surface of the still unexplored asteroid and develop a 3D terrain model.

"To accomplish this, we are currently familiarising ourselves with the special features on Vesta's surface and are preparing ourselves for the data processing." So far, the scientists have been generating the first anaglyph images, or stereograms, in which the asteroid can be seen in 3D using red-green glasses, and projecting the images obtained with Dawn's camera system onto a sphere to enable initial orientation on Vesta.

For planetary researchers, Vesta - the first of two destinations for the Dawn mission - is an exciting research object. Discovered on 29 March 1807 by German astronomer Heinrich Olbers, the asteroid underwent a period of melting and cooling following its formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Since then, however, its appearance and composition have hardly changed.

Hence, Vesta offers a snapshot of some of the oldest geological processes in the Solar System. At that time, Jupiter's strong gravitational pull prevented other planets from forming in what we know today as the Asteroid Belt, where Vesta is located. "By exploring Vesta, we are learning more about the birth of the planets," explains Jaumann. "We have the opportunity to find out what happened when the first planets were formed from a cloud of gas and dust."

With a mean diameter of 520 kilometres, the irregularly shaped Vesta is one of the larger asteroids. In previous images - for example, those acquired by the Hubble Space Telescope - scientists discovered a large, circular depression with a diameter of roughly 460 kilometres with a vast mountain in the centre at the asteroid's South Pole.

This deep 'hole' is probably the result of a collision with another asteroid. The fragments resulting from impacts on Vesta orbit the Sun as meteorites; some have even made their way to Earth.

Vesta is now providing the first opportunity to study an asteroid at close quarters over an extended period of time. Along with the German Framing Camera, Dawn is also carrying the Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, an instrument developed by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica; INAF) and the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) instrument, built by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"As a planetary geologist, one question excites me above all: will we discover evidence of early volcanic activity on Vesta, that is, the first signs of geological 'life' on a planet?" says DLR scientist Ralf Jaumann. "With this spacecraft, we are flying into the dawn of the Solar System."


Related Links
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jul 18, 2011
NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Saturday became the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study the asteroid, named Vesta, for a year before departing for a second destination, a dwarf planet named Ceres, in July 2012. Observations will provide unprecedented data to help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our sol ... read more

Two NASA Probes Tackle New Mission: Studying The Moon

Twin Artemis Probes To Study Moon In 3D

Marshall Center's Bassler Leads NASA Robotic Lander Work

NASA puts space probe into lunar orbit

Opportunity Tops 20 Miles of Mars Driving

Opportunity Under One Mile from Crater Rim

NASA in Australia for Mars research

Mars Opportunity Rover Nears Endeavour Crater Rim

NASA Begins Commercial Partnership With ULA

"Space taxi" coming

AIA Concerned by NASA, NOAA Cuts

Appropriations Committee Approves the Fiscal Year 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill

China launches new data relay satellite

Time Enough for Tiangong

China launches experimental satellite

China to launch an experimental satellite in coming days

Atlantis crew leaves historic flag aboard ISS

Obama dials for pizza, gets space station

NASA Selects Nonprofit to Manage Space Station National Lab Research

Astronauts Complete Spacewalk; Cargo Transfers Begin

Russia sends observation satellite into space

NASA inks agreement with maker of Atlas V rocket

Russia launches 2 foreign satellites into orbit

ILS Proton Successfully Launches the SES-3 Satellite for SES

Ten new distant planets detected

Microlensing Finds a Rocky Planet

A golden age of exoplanet discovery

CoRoT's new detections highlight diversity of exoplanets

'Bloom is off the rose' for 3D: DreamWorks CEO

Apple profit rockets with hot iPad, iPhone sales

Chilean copper-molybdenum mine moves ahead

Earnings-outlook spry at 100-year-old IBM

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement