(See the latest post about Dawns anticipated 16 July arrival at Vesta here)
Come July scientists will be turning their attention to the large asteroid Vesta which has an estimated 9% of the mass of the entire asteroid belt and is the second-biggest object in the belt after the dwarf planet Ceres.
In July of this year NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will enter Vesta’s orbit to view this survivor from the beginning of our solar system. The mission will map Vesta’s terrain, analyse its surface composition, and measure its gravity to determine its internal structure.
Launched from Cape Canaveral in September 2007 on the Delta II rocket, Dawn will orbit Vesta for one year then head over to Ceres for similar analysis. Ceres is the largest asteroid and has recently been reclassified as a dwarf planet.
Scientists are talking a lot about Vesta. For example, NASA issued a press release recently titled When is an Asteroid Not an Asteroid. Vesta is known to have layers like the Earth so crust, mantle and core.
Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, based at UCLA – said in the same NASA release: This gritty little protoplanet has survived bombardment in the asteroid belt for over 4.5 billion years, making its surface possibly the oldest planetary surface in the solar system. Studying Vesta will enable us to write a much better history of the solar system’s turbulent youth.
In 2015, when Dawn has visited Ceres too the mission is complete and we will have a better understanding of the formation of our solar system.
Read more about the Dawn mission at Earthsky.org.