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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

NASA Visiting Asteroids

NASA will launch the Dawn Mission from Cape Canaveral on July 7th. This mission will visit two of the largest asteroids nearby, Ceres and Vesta. It will touch down on the former in 2011 and then the latter in 2015.

Ceres was recently upgraded to "dwarf planet" - the same classification as Pluto (though Pluto's status seems to be in a constant state of flux, as late). It is thought to have a layer of ice at least 40 miles deep, and possibly up to 80, beneath its rocky surface. Vesta is void of water and appears to have been resurfaced by ancient lava flows.

The mission's objectives are:
  • study internal structure and density
  • determine size, composition, shape and mass
  • examine surface features and craters
  • understand the role of water in controlling asteroid evolution

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