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Dawn 'wakes up' ahead of rendezvous with Vesta


The Dawn spacecraft. A NASA illustration

PASADENA (BNS): As it prepares to rendezvous with asteroid Vesta four months from now, NASA spacecraft Dawn has “woken up” from a six-month long hibernation.

Scientists have switched on three scientific instruments – the framing cameras, the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer and the gamma ray and neutron detector – on board the robotic spacecraft.

“Last week, we gently 'woke up' Dawn's three science instruments, which typically spend most of their time sleeping during the three-and-a-half-year journey to Vesta," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

"This activity confirms that Dawn is on track for the first close examination of one of the last unexplored worlds of the inner solar system."

While the two framing cameras will capture detailed images of Vesta's surface, search for moons in the asteroid’s vicinity and look for evidences of former volcanic activity, the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will investigate surface mineralogy.

The gamma ray and neutron detector will detect elemental composition of the asteroid that circles the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The reactivation prepares the instruments for the May approach and July arrival at Vesta, Dawn's first port of call in the asteroid belt, NASA said.

Vesta is the second most massive asteroid in our Solar System and is thought to have survived from the early phase of planet formation approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Almost all other asteroids of comparable size either accumulated to form planets or broke apart due to violent collisions.

Dawn, launched in September 2007, will first explore Vesta between 2011 and 2012 before embarking on the second phase of its voyage to explore the second celestial object Ceres, the dwarf planet, in 2015.

Tags:

Dawn  Vesta  

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