Dawn spacecraft left asteroid Vesta, now headed for Ceres

Dawn is now officially on its way to its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres. This post also contains a video portrait of Vesta, by Dawn.

Communications from the Dawn spacecraft via NASA’s Deep Space Network confirmed in 2012 (11:26 p.m. PDT on September 4 or 6:26 UTC on September 5) that the craft escaped the gentle grip of gravity in the region around the asteroid Vesta. Dawn had been orbiting Vesta for more than a year. The spacecraft is now moving toward its next target in our solar system, an object once considered an asteroid but now called a dwarf planet: Ceres. In 2012, NASA reported:

Dawn spiraled away from Vesta as gently as it arrived. It is expected to pull into its next port of call, Ceres, in early 2015.

The image below is one of Dawn’s farewell shots of Vesta, showing the asteroid’s north pole.

This image is from the last sequence of images NASA’s Dawn spacecraft obtained of the giant asteroid Vesta, revealing the creeping dawn over Vesta’s north pole as it was departing. Click here to expand this image. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dawn was launched from Earth on September 27, 2007. It reached Vesta and began orbiting it on July 15, 2011. At the end of its mission, NASA said:

Dawn has comprehensively mapped this previously uncharted world, revealing an exotic and diverse planetary building block. The findings are helping scientists unlock some of the secrets of how the solar system, including our own Earth, was formed.

Check out this video. It’s a farewell portrait of Vesta, from Dawn.

Bottom line: The Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the asteroid Vesta for more than a year, left the gentle grip of the asteroid’s gravity on September 4-5, 2012, to head for its next solar system target, the dwarf planet Ceres. It is expected to reach Ceres in 2015.


Deborah Byrd