Dawn Begins its Vesta Phase

By Marc Rayman

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is less than three months away from getting into orbit around its first target, the giant asteroid Vesta. Each month, Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, shares an update on the mission’s progress.

Artist's concept of the Dawn spacecraft
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. The giant asteroid Vesta, Dawn’s next destination, is on the lower left. The largest body in the asteroid belt and Dawn’s second destination, dwarf planet Ceres, is on the upper right. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dear Dawntalizingly Close Readers,

Dawn is on the threshold of a new world. After more than three and a half years of interplanetary travel covering in excess of 2.6 billion kilometers (1.6 billion miles), we are closing in on our first destination. Dawn is starting its approach to Vesta.

The interplanetary cruise phase of the mission ends today and the 15-month Vesta phase begins. The first three months are the “approach phase,” during which the spacecraft maneuvers to its first science orbit. Many of the activities during approach were discussed in detail in March and April last year, and now we are about to see those plans put into action.

The beginning of the phase is marked by the first images of the alien world Dawn has been pursuing since it left Earth. Vesta will appear as little more than a smudge, a small fuzzy blob in the science camera’s first pictures. But navigators will analyze where it shows up against the background stars to help pin down the location of the spacecraft relative to its target. To imagine how this works, suppose that distant trees are visible through a window in your house. If someone gave you a photo that had been taken through that window, you could determine where the photographer (Dawn) had been standing by lining up the edge of the window (Vesta) with the pattern of the background trees (stars). Because navigators know the exact position of each star, they can calculate where Dawn and Vesta are relative to each other. This process will be repeated as the craft closes in on Vesta, which ultimately will provide a window to the dawn of the solar system.

Even though the mysterious orb is still too far away to reveal new features, it will be exciting to receive these first pictures. During the approach phase, images will be released in periodic batches, with priority viewing for residents of Earth. The flow will be more frequent thereafter. For most of the two centuries that Vesta has been studied, it has been little more than a pinpoint of light. Interrupting thrusting once a week this month to glimpse its protoplanetary destination, Dawn will watch it grow from about five pixels across to 12. By June, the images should be comparable to the tantalizing views obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope. As the approach phase continues and the distance diminishes, the focus will grow still sharper and new details will appear in each subsequent set of images.

› Continue reading Marc Rayman’s May Dawn Journal

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    20 Responses to “Dawn Begins its Vesta Phase”

  1. Dawn Begins its Vesta Phase | JPL Blog | Hometown Pasadena | Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    [...] Read on Blog’s site » [...]

  2. DawnLover Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    The anticipation of seeing our first good and hard look at an ancient relic worldlet that can teach us so much about how our planetary system evolved is overpowering! Best wishes to the Dawn team and I look forward to the fruits of amazing science and images that come about from our first extended orbital visit to a major asteroid…and then on to Ceres! Man, you guys rock!

  3. Lucian Dumitrescu Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Hello to everyone there at NASA/JPL which occupy there time with study of this asteroids.
    It is interesting of what you do there and I like it very much but I would like to express my ULTIMATE concern of the fact that all NASA/JPL and other space agencies around the world to concentrate there attention on Mars for it to be the next celestial body on which man to put its foot on this planet ASAP, this is my ardent desire and I find that the more I want it to happen the more takes time to achieve it.
    I relay don’t know why this happen to me and to “you” if that is the case, I concentrate my attention to find an answer and I do believe I found one and here is my explanation of which the work of reaching Mars is “slowly” probably because Wasn’t predicted by No Body as it happen in the case of the Moon by ex-President JFKennedy had predicted and pointed specifically about the Moon conquest.
    Maybe because GOD did not put a race between the nations such as former USSR and USA, one way or the other it worked and envy with ego spurted between this two nations who to put its feet 1st. on this natural satellite.
    I am very inpatient about any other celestial body more other then Mars for 1st. was a natural satellite the next should be a Planet such as Mars, I say this because are all kind of activities of which NASA/JPL and other space agencies working into Universe with all kind of activities which is good but more attention should given to Mars and its conquest.

    Best regards,

    Lucian Dumitrescu

  4. Dawn probe reaches milestone approaching asteroid Vesta | Crazy Articles Directory Says:
    May 3rd, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    [...] More information: To learn more about Dawn’s approach phase, read the latest Dawn Journal at http://blogs.jpl.n … vesta-phase/ [...]

  5. Dawn Reaches Milestone Approaching Asteroid Vesta - Science and Nature Says:
    May 4th, 2011 at 9:09 am

    [...] Dawn - Home Page To learn more about Dawn’s approach phase, read the latest Dawn Journal at Blog - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  6. Chris Says:
    May 4th, 2011 at 11:03 am

    This is very exciting, just a couple months to go. The information obtained from Dawn will fill one of the last remaining (major) holes in our basic knowledge of the solar system. I look forward to all the data from our first look at some of the many planetesimals in our cosmic neighborhood. It’s hard to believe that after all we’ve learned, there are still 2 worlds we haven’t seen up close (with exception to all the Kuiper Belt objects such as Pluto, which is also well under way)

    Good Luck, we’re all counting on you.

  7. suresh chopane,chandrapur Says:
    May 5th, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Hallo sir ,you have done a wonderful job.Now we will be able to see Vesta closely.we are eager to the facts of the proto planet,it’s origin,the age og solar system and many things.I am an amateur astronomer in india.i always look at sky with my small telescope with a hope to see any asteroid ,but it is not possible as i have very small one.Now you have given me and all a chance to see ..thank you….suresh chopane, India-president –central india sky watch group

  8. Dawn Spacecraft Reaches Milestone Approaching Asteroid Vesta | Technology Magazine Daily Says:
    May 6th, 2011 at 8:55 am

    [...] learn more about Dawn’s approach phase, read the latest Dawn Journal at http://blogs.jpl.nasa.gov/2011/05/dawn-begins-its-vesta-phase/ Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from [...]

  9. Franjo Schiller Says:
    May 6th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    in Germany we say: viel Glueck …… I am sure your team will be sucessful. The sientific cameras are from my country. They will not let you down. Ich freue mich schon auf die schoenen photos von den Miniplaneten.

  10. Malcolm Jones Says:
    May 7th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Good luck JPL on the Dawn spacecraft. Looking at the Hubble Space Telescope images taken of Vesta when the Earth was at a distance of some 131 million miles, it is tantalizing to imagine what this world will look like from orbit. There seems from the Hubble data quite large scale variations in surface features. The dark areas could be Bassaltic lava areas and the lighter features very much like the highlands of the Earths moon. I look forward to this event very much as Vesta emerges as a real world and to gaze upon the face of an unknown world.

  11. Adrian Tapia Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 9:29 am

    “I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we STAND, as much as in what direction we are MOVING”….”Keep going. I BELIEVE in YOU”.-Oliver Wendell Holmes..I am 63. As a child,I have had a deep profound love and a facination of the cosmos..Reading ‘Rocketship Gallileo’..’Forgotten Planet’..watching the 1950’s movie ‘Rocketship X-M’..these memories of my childhood have fueled wonderment and amazement of possible future explorations of or most remote heavenly bodies..It is amazing to imagine we can “shoot a bullet ot meet with a bullet” billions of miles away from our planet Earth..What an amazing achievement!! Congratulations to all of you on this particular mission of astronomical discovery..for the first time ,in the history of our planet, we have the ability and the intelligence to accomplish such amazing achievements..dreams of our planet and its origins are focused in reaching this wonderous scientific threshold …and on to future new plateaus of knowledge and cellestial information..We will all be following closely!!

  12. Dawn Spacecraft Reaches Milestone Approaching Asteroid Vesta | Science Today News Says:
    May 9th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    [...] learn more about Dawn’s approach phase, read the latest Dawn Journal at http://blogs.jpl.nasa.gov/2011/05/dawn-begins-its-vesta-phase/ Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from [...]

  13. Marc Rayman Says:
    May 10th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    On behalf of the Dawn team, I greatly appreciate these enthusiastic expressions of support and interest. I share the passion for bold exploration and the hunger for exciting new knowledge that each of you and many other readers feel. I believe missions like this belong to everyone, not only the people fortunate enough to work on them directly. This is a mission of humankind! Everyone who is curious about the universe (and our place in it), everyone who yearns for the thrill of discovery, everyone who embraces that noble spirit of grand adventures participates in these efforts to know the cosmos. I hope all of you will continue to join us as we journey further into the unknown and chart the exotic worlds ahead. Many profound rewards, and surely some disappointments, lie ahead. Let’s experience all of them together!

    – Marc Rayman, chief engineer for NASA’s Dawn mission

  14. Adrian Tapia Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Marc,
    So looking, with anxious anticipation, to the first amazing transmissions!
    Best of luck!

  15. Boz Says:
    May 13th, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Good luck from New Zealand.

    I’ll be following the mission closely and looking forward to the next few years of success.

    You guys rock!

  16. Adrian Tapia Says:
    July 12th, 2011 at 11:51 am

    THIS IS THE BIG WEEK!!…JULY 16th!!
    Keep us informed!!…So excited!!..GOOD LUCK!!

  17. Franjo Schiller Says:
    July 13th, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    To commander Marc and the crew of “spaceship dawn”. 82 million germans are watching you day and night on your flight to your first destinantion, the asteroid Vesta. I wish I would be there………….weiterhin viel Glück.

  18. Primeira imagem da órbita do asteróide Vesta divulgada pela Nasa. « Livros – Documentos Says:
    July 19th, 2011 at 3:41 am

    [...] Sonda Dawn entrou na órbita do corpo celeste no sábado dia 16. [...]

  19. sairam Says:
    August 9th, 2011 at 6:16 am

    great work sir,I am a graduate from india how to join in jpl,some plz tell me

  20. Blog - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory » Blog Archive » As the Asteroid Turns … Says:
    August 11th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    [...] is now beginning intensive observations of the alien world it orbits. The approach phase, which began on May 3, is complete. Today Dawn is in its survey orbit around [...]

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