After predicting the NASA spacecraft Dawn to reach asteroid 4 Vesta on July 16, NASA realized that Dawn will reach its destination earlier than before, (just by a matter of time zones and location). After being launched in September of 2007, NASA has waited almost four years for their beloved spacecraft to reach this forbid world, for the sole purpose of investigating the earliest part of the solar-system's history.
Dawn's purpose is described more in our May article entitled 'Dawn Presents its First Pictures on Approach to Asteroid 4 Vesta,' but in summary, Dawn is supposed to study this space rock in order to accumulate more information on the earliest stages of our solar system, which is the asteroid belt. Vesta is a protoplanet; or a planet which is a minor planet: one that could have been one, but is just too small. On July 9, Dawn took this photo of Vesta. Although the picture was on NASA's site, each picture there is supposed to represent 2.4 miles, or 3.8 kilometers.
According to those at NASA, Dawn is supposed to enter orbit around 1 am EDT Saturday morning, here on the east coast. It was moved to the 15, just for the Pacific coast, etc. "When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, engineers estimate there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. At that point, the spacecraft and asteroid will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) from Earth," NASA's statistics reflect.
"It has taken nearly four years to get to this point," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally." The Dawn team will calculate the exact time of orbit as the craft gets closer, but as of now, Dawn is almost there!
"Launched in September 2007, Dawn will depart for its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, in July 2012. The spacecraft will be the first to orbit two bodies in our solar system," Jet-Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) closes. Celebrate as Dawn enters Vesta's orbit, whether it be the 15 or 16 of July! Dawn has come a long way! Go Dawn!