Dawn: getting closer to Vesta

Vesta from DawnNASA’s unmanned Dawn spacecraft, having completed its high-altitude mapping of the asteroid Vesta, drops to a lower altitude for more detailed mapping of Vesta’s surface. On average, its new orbit will allow Dawn to circle Vesta at an altitude of 130 miles, down from its previous 430-mile-high altitude. Dawn is imaging Vesta stereographically, allowing for precise measurements of surface features and the asteroid’s overall shape. In 2012, Dawn is scheduled to fire its ion thruster again, breaking orbit and leaving Vesta for a three-year cruise to the largest body in the asteroid belt, Ceres, arriving in 2015.