“Dawn’s goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system’s earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formations. Ceres and Vesta reside in the extensive zone between Mars and Jupiter together with many other smaller bodies, called the asteroid belt.” – http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/
A bit of history on the Dawn Mission:
Dawn was first launched on September 27, 2007 from Cape Canaveral with its initial trajectory being towards Mars for a gravity assist flyby to direct it to Vesta. Dawn features a xenon propellant ion thruster for direct and maneuver it through space. The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory with scientific instrumentation and engineering performed with Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
On February 17, 2009, Dawn made its closest approach to Mars and then continued onward to Vesta. Over two years later Dawn arrived at Vesta and entered initial orbit on July, 16 2011 and reaching its lowest orbit on December 13, 2011. After 14 months, Dawn departed Vesta on September 5, 2012 to make its journey to Ceres with an estimated arrival of early 2015.
Citizen Science — What YOU can do!
Today, we officially launched Asteroid Mappers which allows you to look at the amazing high resolution images that were taken of Vesta and start mapping the features! As Nicole Gugliucci mentioned in the Hasta La Vesta Hangout, “If you’ve already been addicted to MoonMappers, you’ll be even more addicted to AsteroidMappers!” She couldn’t be more right! The images are absolutely beautiful and we all get the amazing opportunity to go over details of this fascinating planetary body!