SEATTLE — NASA’s Daybreak probe ought to enter into orbit across the asteroid Vesta July 16, turning into the primary spacecraft to go to the 530-kilometer-wide house rock — the second-largest object in the principle asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Daybreak is predicted to spend a 12 months finding out Vesta from above, marking the primary time a spacecraft has ever made an prolonged go to to a big asteroid.
Scientists hope Daybreak’s mission will assist them be taught in regards to the early days of the photo voltaic system and the processes that fashioned and formed rocky planets like Earth and Mars.
“Our bodies like Vesta are constructing blocks,” Daybreak principal investigator Christopher Russell of the College of California, Los Angeles, informed reporters in a latest briefing. “So we’re going again and doing a little type of investigation into our roots, the roots of the photo voltaic system.”
Daybreak is now within the residence stretch of an almost four-year cosmic chase. The probe launched in September 2007 and has logged about 2.7 billion kilometers throughout its travels. As of July 1, Daybreak had closed to inside 86,000 kilometers of Vesta, researchers mentioned.
Daybreak might be simply 16,000 kilometers from Vesta when the house rock’s gravity captures the probe July 16. At that time, Daybreak and Vesta will each be about 188 million kilometers from Earth.
The seize just isn’t anticipated to be a dramatic, nail-biting affair punctuated by last-minute thruster burns. Daybreak has been utilizing its low-thrust ion propulsion system to shut in on Vesta slowly however absolutely, and mission planners count on it to slip properly into orbit July 16.
The spacecraft will start its science operations in early August, researchers mentioned.
Vesta is so giant that many scientists classify it as a protoplanet. The item was nicely on its approach to turning into a full-fledged rocky planet way back, scientists mentioned, however circumstances intervened.
“The formation of Jupiter began stirring up that area of the asteroid belt and stopping supplies from coming collectively any longer,” Russell mentioned. So Vesta is a type of time capsule, preserving some report of how the photo voltaic system got here collectively 4.5 billion years in the past.
“As we discover Vesta, we take a digital journey again in time to the start of the photo voltaic system,” mentioned Carol Raymond, Daybreak deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Throughout its 12 months at Vesta, Daybreak will map the large asteroid’s cratered floor absolutely, research its composition and examine its geological historical past. It should do that from a number of totally different orbits, starting from 2,700 kilometers above Vesta to simply 200 kilometers above, researchers mentioned.
Daybreak ought to wrap up its science work at Vesta in July 2012. However at that time, the probe’s mission will solely be half-finished. It should then head off for an additional asteroid encounter, this time with the dwarf planet Ceres — the biggest object within the asteroid belt.
Daybreak ought to arrive at Ceres in early 2015. The spacecraft’s observations will permit scientists to match the 2 big our bodies, which have been formed by totally different forces, researchers mentioned.