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Dawn eyes Vesta's full-frontal charms

Revealing snap of Clangers' asteroid homeworld

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NASA has released the first "full-frame" image of asteroid Vesta, an impressive view of the Clanger homeworld captured by the Dawn spacecraft on 24 July at a distance of roughly 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometres).

Dawn's full-frame image of Vesta. Pic: NASA

Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer, enthused: "Now that we are in orbit around one of the last unexplored worlds in the inner solar system, we can see that it's a unique and fascinating place."

Jim Green, planetary division director at NASA HQ, agreed. He said: "The new observations of Vesta are an inspirational reminder of the wonders unveiled through ongoing exploration of our solar system."

Dawn is now poised to carry out four "intensive science orbits" of the asteroid belt giant, kicking off on 11 August at an altitude of 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometres) above Vesta's 330 mile (530 kilometre) diameter bulk.

NASA explains that as well as cameras, the spacecraft is packing instruments including "the gamma ray and neutron detector and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer".

The agency elaborates: "The gamma ray and neutron detector uses 21 sensors with a very wide field of view to measure the energy of subatomic particles emitted by the elements in the upper yard (meter) of the asteroid's surface.

"The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will measure the surface mineralogy of both Vesta and Dawn's next target, the dwarf planet Ceres."

Dawn is due to depart Vesta after a year, heading off to a 2015 rendezvous with Ceres – the largest asteroid belt object, measuring an imposing 606 by 565 miles (975 by 909 kilometres). ®

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