Asteroid 4 Vesta and the NASA Dawn spacecraft, an artist’s impression (image: NASA)
The NASA Dawn spacecraft will leave the asteroid 4 Vesta on September 4 and head off to study the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. But don’t hold your breath, the journey to Ceres will take approximately two-and-a half-years. Dawn has been in orbit around Vesta for over a year and in that time has provided a wealth of new information about this body, which Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, suggests “resembles a small planet more closely than a typical asteriod”. The data collected by Dawn means that we now have a detailed understanding of the surface and internal structure of Vesta.
Topography and gravity map of Vesta (image: NASA)
Artist’s concept of Vesta’s internal structure (image: NASA)