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…

An Asteroid’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat

Vesta — the asteroid that was almost a planet — has its complex surface composition revealed in this animation made from images acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. The video reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt. The animation drapes high-resolution false color…

The Surface of an Asteroid

Bright craters, dark craters… craters shaped like butterflies… they’re all represented here in a panorama made from images acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, currently orbiting the 330-mile-wide asteroid Vesta. I stitched two images together (using a third for gap fill-in) that were originally acquired by Dawn’s framing camera in October 2011 and released last week. This shows…

Now that’s some groovy rock!

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captured this image of the asteroid Vesta while in orbit on July 18, 2011. The view looks across Vesta’s cratered and heavily-scarred south pole from a distance of about 6,500 miles. Dawn established orbit at Vesta the morning of July 17, 2011. It will spend a year studying the large protoplanet before…

Dawn: Orbit Established!

It’s confirmed: Dawn has entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta! The spacecraft, which launched in September 2007, has been steadily approaching the giant asteroid for several months. Its mission is to orbit Vesta for a year, studying its surface and composition, and then push off toward the even larger asteroid Ceres. Actually classified as a…

The Coming of Dawn

Can’t see the video below? Click here. After traveling almost four years and 1.7 billion miles, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is less than 100,000 miles from its first target: Vesta, the second-largest asteroid in the solar system. Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is believed to be the…

Thirty Years of Asteroid Discovery

Can’t see the video below? Click here. This mesmerizing animation by Scott Manley illustrates the procession of asteroid discoveries from 1980 – 2010, illuminating each as they were spotted and categorized. The colors indicate how closely the asteroids come to the inner solar system… Earth-orbit-crossers are red, Earth-approachers are yellow and all the others are…

A First Look at an Asteroid

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…

Swinging By

Today, the spacecraft Dawn will get a little help from Mars by using its gravity to alter its course to visit Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids in the solar system. Dawn, a 2,500-pound satellite launched in September ’07, will come within 341 miles of Mars today at 4:28 PST (7:28 EST) as…