Dawn probe update
8th September 2012
Dawn is a NASA spacecraft launched in 2007 on a mission to Vesta and Ceres — the two largest members of the main asteroid belt. It has been studying Vesta since July 2011, returning close-range images and valuable data.
In May 2012, NASA released the preliminary results of Dawn's study. It was found to resemble a small planet more than a typical asteroid. Its southern hemisphere received two giant impacts in the past, creating basins 250 and 300 km wide. Its metal-rich core is thought to be 220 kilometres (140 mi) across. Scientists now believe that Vesta is the "last of its kind" – the only remaining example of the large planetoids that came together to form the rocky planets during the early Solar System.
This week, Dawn broke free of Vesta's gravity to begin its journey to Ceres. It will arrive there almost exactly three years from now, in September 2015. Ceres is thought to contain water-bearing minerals, and may possess a weak atmosphere. It has never been photographed at close-range before.
The view below, taken on 26th August 2012, is looking down on Vesta's north pole as Dawn was departing. More information and a video is available at the NASA website.
Click to enlarge: