NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is another step closer to Vesta; only 5200 kilometres now separate the asteroid and its new ‘neighbour’, Dawn. The images show Vesta from ists south pole to areas in the northern hemisphere.
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 (DLR) will create detailed maps and elevation models of this celestial body.
The images acquired by the German camera system on the US spacecraft Dawn are currently being used for navigation purposes in its journey to the asteroid Vesta. A film, created by the Dawn team researchers from individual images acquired at a distance of about 481,000 kilometres, already reveals how complex the surface of the asteroid is.
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.