Elenin Discovers New Comet Vesta

This is the first image obtained by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft after successfully entering orbit around Vesta. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

If you haven’t already seen them, here are the latest closeup photos of the asteroid Vesta taken by Dawn. Although the spacecraft has been captured by Vesta’s gravity, mission controllers will work for the next several weeks to tweak the orbit, so the craft is in the best position for studying and photographing the asteroid’s surface. During this time, Dawn will also search for possible moons and take additional pictures of Vesta for navigation purposes. The real science begins next month.

In this side view of Vesta, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, you can see the central peak protruding from the polar region. Credit: NASA/ESA

In the photo above, we squarely face the huge 285-mile wide impact basin in Vesta’s south polar region. The large mountain at center is the impact hole’s central peak. You can see the rim of the basin best at upper right between the 1 and 3 o’clock positions. For reference, here’s an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows the peak viewed from the side. The ‘missing’ material that would otherwise round out the bottom of Vesta was excavated by an enormous impact. Judging by the many craters in the area, it must have happened long ago. As for the worm-like grooves, they may be connected to the impact. The difference in detail between the two photos is amazing!

Here are a couple more. Click on the Dawn photos to see mouth-watering full-size versions:

Vesta, at 330 miles across, is the largest of the 8 asteroids we’ve seen up close with spacecraft to date. Here they’re shown with correct relative sizes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/ESA

This 3-D image of the south polar region of the asteroid Vesta was put together from two images taken on July 9. The image shows the rough topography in the south polar area, the large mountain, impact craters, grooves, and steep scarps in three dimensions. Use red-blue glasses to view in 3-D. Credit: NASA

P/2011 NO1 is a tiny spot in this photo taken on July 12 through a 79-inch (very large!) telescope. Credit: N. Howes, G. Sostero, E. Guido

Congratulations go out again to Leonid Elenin! He and I. Molotov discovered new comet P/2011 NO1 ‘remotely’ on photos taken using a computer-controlled telescope at the ISON-NM Observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. The comet was discovered on July 7 and the news just announced today. Before you get too excited, P/2011 NO1 is incredibly faint (magnitude 19) and becoming fainter as it recedes from both Earth and sun in the coming months. I doubt anyone’s going to see this visually through a telescope. MORE

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