NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid.
After traveling nearly four years and 1.7 billion miles, Dawn is now approximately 48,000 miles away from 330-miles-diameter Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the solar system. When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit on July 16, there will be approximately 9,900 miles between them. When orbit is achieved, they will be approximately 117 million miles away from Earth. During the initial reconnaissance orbit, at approximately 1,700 miles, the spacecraft will get a broad overview of Vesta with color pictures and data in different wavelengths of reflected light. Dawn then will move even closer, to a low-altitude mapping orbit approximately 120 miles above the surface. Dawn spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Sept. 27, 2007. It will continue observations of Vesta until July, 2012, then be moved to observe Ceres, the largest, 590-mile-diameter asteroid, from Feb. to July, 2015.
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