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Close Encounters with Asteroids


Close Encounters with Asteroids

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta: and the first set of images from the mission have been published.

Mark Raymond, the Dawn’s chief engineer said: “What I think is very exciting about this is that after two centuries of observing this fuzzy little blob of light among the stars, earth now has a robotic emissary in orbit around Vesta.”

The journey to reach the asteroid began in September 2007. Vesta is part of an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, 2.8 billion kilometres away from earth. The Dawn spacecraft will remain in orbit around Vesta for a year before moving onto orbit the asteroid Ceres. The aim is to determine the inner structure of the asteroid; its density, shape, size, composition and mass.

Chris Russell, the Dawn’s principal investigator said: “This is not a uniform body. Different things are happening in different regions of the surface and that indicates to me that the interior was very active. It was making this mineral over here and that over there and pumping it out on the surface. So things were going on and we are going to learn how bodies such as Vesta worked when they were coming together and evolving. We are going to learn a lot about evolution.”

Scientists hope that the data collected by Dawn will help them understand how our solar system was formed.

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