Vesta’s Formation History? It’s Complicated.

Just when scientists thought they had a tidy theory for how the giant asteroid Vesta formed, a new paper from NASA’s Dawn mission suggests the history is more complicated. If Vesta’s formation had followed the script for the formation of rocky planets like our own, heat from the interior would have created distinct, separated layers…

Dawn Makes an Elemental Discovery on Vesta

In what could be called a “eureka” moment for Dawn researchers and planetary scientists alike, hydrogen has been found on the surface of Vesta, a 550-km (340-mile) -wide protoplanet and the second most massive world in our Solar System’s main asteroid belt. The elemental discovery was made with the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND)…

Is Vesta a Planet Among Asteroids?

After nearly 5 months in orbit around Vesta, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned some incredibly detailed data about the composition and structure of what was once surely considered an asteroid. But now scientists are starting to have second thoughts about what exactly Vesta is… is it really an asteroid? Or is it more like a…

Pay a Visit to Vesta

Can’t see the video below? Click here. 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)…

A Snowman on Vesta

Aptly nicknamed the “Snowman”, these three craters were imaged on August 6, 2011 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft in orbit around the protoplanet Vesta. Located on Vesta’s northern hemisphere, the craters were first visible to researchers on July 23. Dawn has been in orbit around Vesta for one month now and has already returned many amazingly detailed…

New Vesta Images!

Released today, this is one of several new images taken with the full-frame camera aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft currently in orbit around the asteroid Vesta. Look at the detail in the surface! Incredible! This image shows the southern hemisphere of Vesta, and around its equator are long, deep grooves. Many different sizes of craters can…

Surprise: Ceres’ Bright Spots are Probably Salt

So now that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been in orbit around Ceres for seven months, has the nature of its strange bright spots finally been determined? Are they brilliantly reflective deposits of water ice, as many initially suspected? Or just some curiously-bright rock faces? (Or the metallic remains of an ancient alien space base, like more…

Ceres’ Strange Bright Spots are Almost Certainly Reflective Material

Ever since it was first spotted by Hubble in 2003, the nature of the curious bright spot on Ceres has been an intriguing mystery for scientists. And even as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet earlier this year the bright spot continued to mystify, gradually resolving into first two and then multiple, separate spots as Dawn…

History Is Made Today As Dawn Arrives At Ceres

It’s official – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has arrived at the dwarf planet Ceres! Today, March 6 2015, at 7:39 a.m. EST (12:39 UTC) Dawn was captured by Ceres’ gravity at a distance of 38,000 miles (61,155 km). Mission controllers at JPL received a signal from the spacecraft at 8:36 a.m. EST (13:36 UTC) that Dawn was healthy and…

Find Out How “Crazy Engineering” Is Getting Dawn to Ceres

Remember Dawn, the spacecraft that showed us our first close-up images of asteroid/protoplanet Vesta when it entered orbit back in 2011? Well Dawn is still going strong, having left Vesta behind and now closing in on its next target: Ceres, a full-fledged dwarf planet and, at about 600 miles (965 km) wide, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. Once…

A Ceres of Surprises: the Largest Asteroid is a Water World

By now you must know about the jets of ice particles blasting out of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and maybe have even heard about the recent discovery of water vapor issuing forth from Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa. But now we know of another spray-happy world out there: Ceres, which at 591 miles across is our solar…