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Vesta flashes charms to approaching Dawn

Impressive snap from NASA's asteroid voyeur

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned an impressive snap of Vesta, as it prepares to enter orbit around the asteroid belt object.

Dawn's snap of Vesta. Pic: NASA

Snapped at an intimate 26,000 miles (41,000 kilometres), the image offers a tantalising glimpse of the second-largest object orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Only Ceres surpasses Vesta's 530 kilometre (330 mile) diameter.

Dawn is due to go into orbit around the distant body later this evening at a distance of some 188 million kilometers (117 million miles) from Earth. Data gathered from observations of Vesta's basaltic rock surface will "help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history", as NASA puts it.

The agency adds: "As the spacecraft gets closer, it will snap multi-angle images, allowing scientists to produce topographic maps. Dawn will later orbit at approximately 200 kilometres (120 miles) to perform other measurements and obtain closer shots of parts of the surface. Dawn will remain in orbit around Vesta for one year."

Once it's had its close encounter with Vesta, Dawn will head off for a 2015 meeting with Ceres, the dwarf planet which measures an impressive 975 by 909 kilometres (606 by 565 miles). ®

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