After speeding through the solar system for four years with ion thrusters, Dawn is now poised to enter orbit around Vesta later tonight, where it will circle for a year and study the giant space rock's composition.
Vesta's gravitational pull is expected to capture Dawn around 10 p.m. Pacific time/ 1 a.m. Saturday Eastern time, according to NASA.
Although it lives in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, thee monstrous, 330-mile-wide Vesta is really more of a protoplanet than an asteroid. Most space rocks in its neighborhood are a third of its size, and Vesta has a rocky composition like that of Venus, Earth and Mars, with a core, mantle and crust.
It's distinct from the other 540,000-odd objects that are considered "minor planets," the objects that orbit the sun but aren't planets are comets. But it's too small to be considered a dwarf planet, unlike Ceres — the Dawn spacecraft's next destination in 2015, by the way.
Scientists think that Vesta could have been the fifth rocky planet, behind Mars, but it never properly coalesced. It's probably the fault of Jupiter, which knocked away other objects that Vesta could have collided with to form a larger, denser orb. Vesta has actually been minimized through collisions with other objects, which have knocked off bits of it to form Vestoids, as this NASA Science story explains.
Dawn is designed to study several key features at Vesta, which scientists hope will help explain how it formed — or did not form, as it were. It will map the asteroid's terrain, gravity field and interior structure, partly by scrutinizing a huge crater at its south pole which is currently illuminated by sunlight.
After a year of observations, Dawn will fire its ion thrusters again and make its way to Ceres for arrival in 2015.
At Least NASA can live on in this guy. Please get some good data on the belt. Id love to know more about its composition!
3 years from now "NASA reports that the Main Belt Asteroids are primarily...rocks floating in space". Meanwhile (insert commercial space venture company name here) announces the launch date for the first human mission to Mars. Estimated time of trip is to be 3 months with the new commercially developed plasma engine.
I want lots of photos! And I will be very happy if the probe discovers proof of a core/mantle/crust arrangement. Or has that already been found?
Actually it's 39 days not 3 months....big difference....
Sorry Cookiees453 - I was thinking we'd narrow it down to 39 days in 6 years not 3. I was factoring in the current economy ;-)
So, did everything go ok? where is the update PopSci!
Oh, I see how it is... just blame it in Jupiter!
im wondering whats to stop us from directing a asteroid to a stable orbit and mineing it right now, it would lower costs greatly in the long run if the materials where not pulled from earths gravity field.
ok so we dont know what the asteroids are made out of what better way to find out than to take it apart even if its jsut ice thats water we dont have to bring up or hydrogen we dont have to ship up
we could put big armored shields on space stations they could become more and more permanent
What keeping us from moving Vesta into Earth orbit is the fact that is has a mass of (2.67 ± 0.02)×10^20 kg and the slightest miscalculation could end human civilization. Plus, what minerals could you find on that body that wold be worth the expense of mining it?
You're kidding, right? It says in the article that it has the same composition like the Earth. So... whatever you can find on Earth, can potentially be mined there. Gold, silver, platinum, rare earth elements, you name it. There may come a time when our planet is thoroughly depleted, and we may have to do just that.
However, I agree. Moving an asteroid into a high orbit around the Earth is currently a pretty fantasy and nothing more. The amount of energy needed to move an object that large won't be available to humans for some decades, or maybe centuries?
I do not care about this rock in space. I really don't. As everyone reads and hears the media, out country dept is more than we can pay and our leaders are to cowardly and selfish to do anything about it. Its time to pull out of Afganistan and Iraq and anywhere else we are fighting in this world. Its time to stop give free hand outs and it's time to close Nasa, Parks and as many other programs in the USA and just pay our own bills and finish this problem. I was unemployed 2 twice after my divorce. I have 2 children. I live in the smallest of apartments, cut all my bills and sold my retirement to pay childsupport. I got past those hard times. Our leaders need to grow up and stop creating system for themselves and their own interest, their own special retirement too. Its time to grow up leaders and cut the budget and pay the bills. The day has come.
dude platinum metals ! irridium ! the platinum group is supposedly found alot more in space because its so heavy its all most all in our planets core
and i say we could do it now it doesnt have to be fast ! use mirrors do it slowly and safely( mirrors would cause heating and spalling causeing the asteroid to move
i wasnt saying we should move vesta move something smaller
a factory in space would bring alot of wealth and innovation
moveing something as big as vesta would also effect tides bad idea but a mile long asteroid would be negligable in its effects
a mineral and factory base in between the earth and the moon would reduce moon mission costs alot, improve durability of probes and such we would be able to go the chunky durable armor route not delicate machinery that,s as light as possible
This is what NASA is doing with it's time and money? What a waste of resources.
I do like the 3rd Rock from the Sun, though!
Clarifying earlier comments;
quseio2 asked "im wondering whats to stop us from directing a asteroid to a stable orbit and mineing it right now"
The tech to bring an object like Vesta closer to earth does not exist RIGHT NOW nor can be reasonably expect to exist in the near future. In addition unless the object has a very high concentration of high value minerals there would be no economic incentive to do so RIGHT NOW.
Lastly, even if the desired minerals compose a large portion of the total mass the energy required to move the unwanted material (ie dead weight) would far exceed the energy require the move the mining equipment to Vesta (Energy = $). (if you think you know how to move 267,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons with current tech please explain your theory)
In the more distant future the tech and economic incentive that would make mining Vesta feasible and desirable could exist. If such conditions come to exist and moving Vesta closer to Earth to practical and desirable, then easiest and safest place to put it would be Lagrangian point 1 or Lagrangian point 2.
I could see Astro mining happening 50 to 100 years from now. Unless Vesta has a core made of solid gold, then all bets are off.
Well , there IS a way to bring Vesta into Earth Orbit with today's technology: We could do it a piece at a time! By building a large linear accelerator (magnetic rail gun), minerals and useful metals mined from Vesta could be launched with the rail gun that would send this material towards Earth, to be captured by "Space Tugs" . Using this material, huge factories could be built in space.
Of course, bringing this material back down to Earth might not be cost effective. It could be used in orbiting labs or even used by factories on our Moon. However, it might be feasible to build capsules that could bring precious metals and finished manufactured items to Earth.
Within a couple hundred years, we could be exploiting the mineral wealth of the whole solar system. Imagine driving a car on the Moon (moon rover) powered by Methane from the moon Titan, and Oxygen made from water found in craters at the Moon's south pole.
In the book by John Lewis, "Mining The Sky: Untold Riches From The Asteroids, Comets, And Planets", if all the useful metals and other stuff like Oxygen and Water available in the asteroids were brought to Earth, it would be worth several billion dollars - for EACH man, woman, and child on Earth !
Thinking about bringing an asteroid to Earth is missing the whole point. When you go on a long trip, what are you going to need? First, you need food and water for the people, and fuel for the vehicle. In space you will need oxygen for the people as well.
Given water, we can grow our food on board a spacecraft. We can turn water into oxygen and fuel.
So, finding a supply of water on the way out toward the major resources of the Solar System, which are the moons of Saturn, asteroids with accessible water will act as gas stations for vehicles going to and returning from mining operations.
Most of the vehicles will be robotic and won't need food for humans on board, but they will still need fuel.
PS. Using rail guns to move ingots to Earth would be problematic. The speed attained by an inbound ingot would require some uninhabited moon to act as a catcher's mitt. We won't be able to use our Moon to catch inbound ingots because the impact would blast debris out of our Moon's gravitational field and will add unacceptable risks to vehicles in both the Moon's and Earth's area of space. Trying to stop an ingot moving inbound at inter-planetary speeds with any sort of vehicle is simply impossible.
It is exactly the same problem as we have in trying to stop an asteroid which is going to hit the Earth. Earth is very far down inside the Sun's gravity well. Anything falling from as far as the asteroid belt or further gains huge amounts of momentum. Think of trying to 'catch' an ingot of iridium moving at an approximate velocity of over 30 kilometers per second. Put in any mass you think is appropriate for an ingot sent in from the asteroid belt or Saturn and do the math. We can't stop it with a vehicle, and we can't let it hit the Earth.
Solving this problem is one of the things that will allow the mining of the Solar System's resources.
:-D Pay Attention!