15 July 2011
I have been a delinquent blogger lately, but I had to break my silence briefly to give you a heads up: today NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history by being the first probe to orbit the protoplanet Vesta! The image below is from July 9, and already Dawn has upgraded Vesta from a fuzzy disk in Hubble images to a world with visible surface features, including some strange striations. Once Dawn is in orbit, we should be getting even better views. Stay tuned!
Once Dawn is finished with Vesta, it will move on and go into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, making it the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet and the first mission to orbit two different objects*!
*Yes, many missions have orbited the earth first before going elsewhere, but I don’t count that as the same thing, because they started quite firmly in the earth’s gravity well.