New Vesta images and video

The Dawn science team presented the best-yet images of the asteroid Vesta yesterday at a NASA press conference, including the first full-frame image (below). Dawn is just now beginning its regular science orbits around the huge asteroid, but has already provided new information and data, which will only increase over the next months.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

There is also a cool video showing a full rotation of Vesta as seen by Dawn.

Along with the huge crater with tall central mound seen previously, another feature of particular interest is the series of long grooves or ridges which extend partway around Vesta, clearly seen in the video.

The entire press conference can be viewed on YouTube:

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Vesta up close

The Dawn spacecraft has taken its first closeup photos of the asteroid Vesta since successfully entering orbit last Friday. This is the first time that a main-belt asteroid has been orbited by a spacecraft. There are some large ridges/cliffs as well as many craters, but the most prominent feature would seem to be the large mound inside the huge crater at the south pole (in centre of image below). Some comparisons have been made to Uranus’ moon Miranda in terms of the “chevron-shaped ridges” also inside that crater.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

As Dawn refines its orbit closer to Vesta over the next few weeks, there should be many more images showing greater detail; our first closeup look at this very old and intriquing world…

Dawn arrives at Vesta

After an almost four-year journey, the Dawn spacecraft has arrived at the asteroid Vesta, and will enter orbit tomorrow, July 15. The newest images, the first close-up ones ever taken of Vesta, have shown more and more detail as Dawn has made its approach. There wil be more news tomorrow of course, and the images from orbit should be amazing…

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Goodbye Spirit, but hello OSIRIS-REx

Two milestone but bittersweet announcements today from NASA… first, the formal end of mission for the Mars rover Spirit, after no communication for almost a year now, despite many repeated attempts. Spirit had gone into winter hibernation as in previous years, but this time, after being stuck in a deep sand trap for so long, with dwindling power, apparently wasn’t able to come out of it’s sleep this time. But for a mission initially designed to last three months, Spirit last about seven years! The other rover, Opportunity, however, continues to make its way across the Meridiani plains, and is now getting close to the huge Endeavour crater, which we’ve been eagerly waiting for, for a long time now…

On a positive note though, there was also announced today a new deep-space mission to launch in 2016 called Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) which will bring samples back to Earth from asteroid 1999 RQ36. As well as providing new information on the history of asteroids and the solar system, it will also help pave the way for a future manned mission to an asteroid, as directed by President Obama, before going to Mars.

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