Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dawn Presents Its First Pictures on Approach to Asteroid 4 Vesta

A Journey to the Beginning of Our Solar System,’ gracefully rests under the title at the Dawn Mission’s main page at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Explained in an article entitled Dawn: NASA Fact Sheet, that puzzling slogan is interpreted: “Exploring a new frontier, the Dawn mission will journey back in time over 4.5 billion years to the beginning of our Solar is this possible?...thousands of small bodies orbit the Sun [between Mars and Jupiter]...They formed at the same time and in similar environments as the bodies that grew to be the rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars). Scientists theorize that the asteroids were budding planets and never given the opportunity to grow...” Although this mission is based on the evolutionist worldview, Dawn will still collect information about these ‘minor planets’ and report back to earth, whether biased or not. Actually, in the article, Dawn: A mission in development forexploration of main belt asteroids Vesta and Ceres, Dawn’s mission is stated clear and more simpler: “Dawn is on development for a mission to explore main belt asteroids in order to yield insights into important questions about the formation and evolution of the solar system.” This sums up everything Dawn will do until the mission is over in 2016, after leaving Ceres.

Though thought-provoking as it seems, Dawn, has almost completed its mission: to travel to two protoplanets, 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres. “Dawn, as a mission belonging to NASA’s Discovery Program, delves into the unknown, drives new technology innovations, and achieves what's never been attempted before,” accurately describes Dawn’s mission, unbiased on how the universe was created. The Dawn mission, though, hopefully will be a successful one. We actually now have evidence that it should be—the pictures of 4 Vesta taken from Dawn. These pictures will help fine-tune navigation during its approach; July 16 (2011) is the proposed day for achieving orbit when the asteroid itself is 117 million miles away from the green planet.

Dawn will be ahead of schedule if it reaches Vesta on July 16. Launched from earth on September 27, 2007, it’s traveled for quite some time to get where it wants to go. It actually was supposed to launch on April 10, 2007, but a myriad of delays kept it back. Now, when Dawn is so close to Vesta, NASA hopes nothing to misshapen. As time traveled on, Dawn flew by Mars in February 2009 for gravitational assistance and will arrive, orbiting Vesta quite soon, much earlier than the proposed October 2011. From then on, Dawn will depart Vesta in May 2011 and visit Ceres in August 2015. It ends its mission on January 16 2016.

Named after a Roman virgin goddess or hearth and home, 4 Vesta is a protoplanet remnant. Being the second-most massive 'minor-planet' in the solar system, it was easily detected by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers on March 29, 1807. Its orbit is depicted below, and extends beyond Mars, but much closer than Jupiter. [The orbit image was taken on May 11, 2011. Its position will change by tomorrow, or whenever this is viewed.]

The Pictures taken by Dawn are incredible. Taken on May 3 (2011) when Dawn began its approach of Vesta (725,000 thousand miles from Vesta), “The asteroid appears as a small, bright pearl against a background of stars,” JPL writes. Although a colloquial expression, Vesta is far from being a pearl with a diameter of (approximately—Dawn will find out) 330 miles wide. Space-bound telescope have gotten just a fuzzy orb, so these pictures by Dawn are a step up. Dawn will also take closer pictures to reveal surface detail, like New Horizons will when it reaches Pluto in 2015. Pluto (a Kuiper Belt Object) has a fuzzy image as seen from ground telescopes; New Horizons will hopefully fix that.

So, mark your calendars as you save this important date: July 16 2011. Dawn will enter Vesta’s orbit and the fun will begin!


And now for the pictures: 1) This image shows the first, unprocessed image obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft of the giant asteroid Vesta in front of a background of stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA 2) This image, processed to show the true size of the giant asteroid Vesta, shows Vesta in front of a spectacular background of stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA. 

unprocessed image of the asteroid Vesta

1 comment:

  1. I would like to make known a typo: I said Vesta's the second most massive object in the solar system. NOT! Vesta is the second most massive object of the 'minor planets' in the solar system. Sorry!