Friday, July 15, 2011
About a week has passed since the last image was released and as expected the Dawn team has released another one, perhaps the second last before Dawn finally goes into orbit. It will enter orbit around Vesta in just a day and a bit, but images take a bit of time to download and process so we might see another one at a distance of 20,000 km or something before the real closeups. Maybe not though, hard to say. The team is very tight-lipped about exactly when they release images so we just take what we are given.
The most recent image looks like this:
The quality of this image shows just how massive Vesta is. In comparison, the asteroid 2867 Šteins looked like this at a distance of just 800 km when Rosetta flew by:
The strangest thing about the new image of Vesta is the mountain in the centre. Here's what it looks like closer up (though not better resolution unfortunately):
What is that ridge-looking thing in the middle? Lots of speculation on it here, and luckily we don't have to wait long at all to find out.
On Unmannedspaceflight.com they have also (not surprisingly) improved on the image a bit and also made one showing the size of Vesta compared to all the other major asteroids we've flown by before. Notice just how puny 21 Lutetia, until now the largest asteroid seen up close, looks now:
Not surprising that Vesta alone counts for more than 10% of the mass of the asteroid belt.
Like the other users there, I am also pleasantly surprised by just how round Vesta is. Hubble really led us to believe that Vesta would be more potato-like in appearance, as you can see.