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Dawn returns first image from new world

Posted: July 18, 2011

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft slipped into orbit Saturday around Vesta, one of the solar system's largest asteroids. The probe will spend a year circling the 300-mile-wide asteroid, unmasking its unexplored surface, measuring its gravity field and determining its chemical make-up.

Scientists consider Vesta a leftover building block from the formation of the solar system. Objects like Vesta joined together to form the inner planets, but rubble stranded between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter eventually became the asteroid belt.

NASA plans to release more imagery from Vesta during an Aug. 1 press conference. Read our full story on Dawn's arrival at Vesta this weekend.

Dawn's framing camera took this image Sunday at a range of 9,000 miles from Vesta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


Vesta is the second-most massive object in the asteroid belt, dwarfing other asteroids visited by spacecraft over the last few years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/JAXA


This enhanced image from Dawn's framing camera shows Vesta's south pole region, the site of a large ancient crater that littered the cosmos with debris, some of which falls to Earth as meteorites. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA