Destination: Vesta!

Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive at the 530km wide asteroid Vesta on 16 July, where it will spend the next 12 months in orbit.  Then it’s on to the dwarf planet, Ceres [950km wide].  Images Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

The Hubble Space Telescope has already taken a look at Vesta but, on 1 June, Dawn captured its own views – at a distance of about 480,000km – to assist in the final navigation stage.  And Nasa have released those looped images as a video.

From the JPL Nasa press release

The video loops 20 images obtained for navigation purposes on June 1. The images show a dark feature near Vesta’s equator moving from left to right across the field of view as Vesta rotates. Images also show Vesta’s jagged, irregular shape, hinting at the enormous crater known to exist at Vesta’s south pole.

The images were obtained by a framing camera during a 30-minute period and show about 30 degrees of a rotation. The pixel size in these images is approaching the resolution of the best Hubble Space Telescope images of Vesta.

“Like strangers in a strange land, we’re looking for familiar landmarks,” said Jian-Yang Li, a Dawn participating scientist from the University of Maryland, College Park. “The shadowy spot is one of those — it appears to match a feature, known as ‘Feature B,’ from images of Vesta taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.”

There’s an August 2010 Nasa preview of the Dawn Mission here – with a video presentation narrated by Leonard Nimoy – as opposed to the previously noted video narrated by William Shatner. 

More Dawn related  videos and interviews here.