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NASA names the day for Dawn raid on asteroid belt

Launch date pencilled in

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NASA has confirmed the launch date for Dawn, its mission to the asteroid belt. The space agency is aiming for a launch window that opens at 07:25 (EDT) on 26 September, and closes again 29 minutes later.

Artist's impression of Dawn flying past the dwarf-planet Ceres

Artist's impression of Dawn flying past the dwarf-planet Ceres.

The agency gets three chances. Although each window is short, there is a launch opportunity on each of the 26, 27, and 28 September, so even if a storm threatens on 26 September, the asteroid hunter could still see space next week.

Dawn's mission is to search the asteroid belt for clues to the conditions and processes that were at work in the very first years of our solar system's existence. The craft will make detailed surveys of the massive asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

The asteroid belt skirts our solar system just between Mars and Jupiter. Astronomers believe the asteroids are the pieces of proto-planet that never made it.

Recent snaps from Hubble, NASA says, have raised some interesting questions about the history of both Ceres and Vesta. The two bodies NASA has targeted for a close-up have very different evolutionary histories, and between them should help scientists understand some of what was going on during the first few million years. ®

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