A First Look at an Asteroid

Processed first image of the asteroid Vesta from NASA's Dawn spacecraft

Ever wonder what an asteroid would look like from three-quarters of a million miles away? Well, here ya go. 🙂

This image, a processed version of the original, shows the true size of the 330-mile-wide asteroid Vesta as seen by the approaching Dawn spacecraft on May 3, 2011. The original image contained a lot of overexposure bloom surrounding Vesta, so the area around it was darkened here to reveal the actual apparent size from that distance – nearly 750,000 miles (1.21 million km) away – of a mere five pixels across. Still…it’s five pixels we didn’t have before!

“This first image hints of detailed portraits to come from Dawn’s upcoming visit.”

– Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator, JPL

After over three and a half years and more than a billion miles of traveling the inner solar system, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now on final approach to its first target of exploration. If all goes as planned Dawn will establish orbit around Vesta on July 16.

From the JPL release: Dawn will start collecting science data in early August at an altitude of approximately 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) above the asteroid’s surface. As the spacecraft gets closer, it will snap multi-angle images, allowing scientists to produce topographic maps. Dawn will later orbit at approximately 200 kilometers (120 miles) to perform other measurements and obtain closer shots of parts of the surface. Dawn will remain in orbit around Vesta for one year. After another long cruise phase, Dawn will arrive in 2015 at its second destination, Ceres, an even more massive body in the asteroid belt.

Read more on the news release here.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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