SCIENCE -- September 20, 2011 at 10:30 AM ET
Spacecraft Beams Back New Images of Asteroid Vesta
This image obtained by the framing camera on NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows the south pole of the giant asteroid Vesta. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
An asteroid with cliffs that climb 9-miles high, deep grooves and craters can be seen in new images recently beamed back from NASA's Dawn spacecraft.
The images come from Asteroid Vesta, the second most massive asteroid in the asteroid belt circling the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Since the Dawn mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 2007, it has been taking detailed images of Vesta.
These new images, obtained when Dawn was about 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) above Vesta's surface, were used to determine its rotational axis and a system of latitude and longitude coordinates, according to NASA. One of the first tasks tackled by the Dawn science team was to determine the precise orientation of Vesta's rotation axis relative to the celestial sphere. The hope is that these images and video help scientists understand the forces that helped shape Vesta.