The camera system on board the Dawn spacecraft has acquired its first image of the massive asteroid Vesta. Although the mission's first target is still about 975,000 kilometres away, appearing as just a large white dot, "we now have visual contact with our objective," said Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). In August 2011, the camera will photograph the asteroid from an orbit with a planned survey altitude of 2700 kilometres; the data will then be processed to develop a three-dimensional model.
What might asteroid Vesta look like? In a new animation, researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have recreated the asteroid in 3D. In the animation, the asteroid is irregularly shaped, has a slight indentation at its South Pole and numerous impact craters. In July 2011, after a four year journey, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will reach the asteroid, which circles the Sun in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This will be like taking a journey into the past because Vesta is a celestial body that has not changed much since the formation of the Solar System.