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Here’s a great video released by JPL taking us on a virtual tour of the asteroid Vesta, from the point of view of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. It’s a shape model of Vesta, mapped with actual images acquired by Dawn during its approach and orbit of the 550-km (340-mile) -wide protoplanet.
Once little more than a fuzzy point of light to astronomers, Dawn has revealed Vesta to be quite a fascinating little world, with many unique and unexpected landforms like mountains, steep scarps, long grooves, scattered light and dark splotches and curious clusters of “wormlike” scratches. And all this in just three months of orbit… not too shabby!
Today Dawn finished spiraling down to an even lower orbit of Vesta, where it will begin its next phase of scientific exploration of the asteroid. This High-Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) is, ironically, 4 times closer than its previous orbit and will provide even higher-resolution views of Vesta’s surface. It will also complete orbits much more frequently, making a pass around Vesta in 12 hours where it previously took 3 days.
Over the next 30 days Dawn will orbit Vesta over 60 times, allowing scientists to create even more detailed maps of its intriguing topography.
“The team has been in awe of what they have seen on the surface of Vesta,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, at UCLA. “We are sharing those discoveries with the greater scientific community and with the public.”
Follow the progress of the Dawn mission on the mission site here.