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Dawn orbits Vesta
July 17, 2011 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Dawn spacecraft now orbits asteroid Vesta - After almost 4 years of space travel, the Dawn spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Vesta, an Arizona sized rock. Dawn tweets, takes pictures, and there is a Vesta Fiesta party to celebrate. After hanging out at Vesta for a year, Dawn will head off to visit the Ceres asteroid next, a three year trip. Amazing achievement of engineering, innovation and accuracy.
posted by Argyle (42 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am a little curious, is there any gravity sufficient to maintain an "orbit", or is the probe simply maintaining a parallel course?
posted by Xoebe at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It'll be really interesting to find out what the orbital period is. Once they know that, they'll be able to calculate Vesta's mass, and thus its density, and therefore get a pretty good idea of how much metal there is.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vesta is heavy enough for an orbit, but it's probably not going to be a very fast orbit.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2011


Ah nevermind, it was there in the first link.
posted by Xoebe at 5:57 PM on July 17, 2011


Why does everything in space resemble a potato?
posted by thewalrus at 6:02 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


NASA needs to have a feature to put every active space science mission with one click into your facebook feed. I follow no bands, but lots of space probes.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:02 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was controversy last month about how few Dawn photos NASA was releasing, discussed here. I'm glad NASA relented and allowed us to follow the approach to Vesta.
posted by gubo at 6:06 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Why does everything in space resemble a potato?

The real question is why every potato resembles something in space.
posted by lucidium at 6:11 PM on July 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm having difficulty believing that Dawn is really tweeting. I mean, when it was launched Twitter was still an unknown, and the time lag it takes the signals to travel from it to Earth would be prohibitive towards keeping a net connection going.
posted by JHarris at 6:17 PM on July 17, 2011


YES I AM KIDDING
posted by JHarris at 6:18 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The ion engines are hella cool. Over the lifetime of the mission, they'll impart a total delta-v (change in velocity) of over 10 km/s -- the same amount needed to get into low Earth orbit, if you were able to expend it in 9 minutes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:36 PM on July 17, 2011


Why is everything Arizona-sized?
posted by chronkite at 7:00 PM on July 17, 2011


After almost 4 years of space travel...

Yeah, I don't think we'll be sending people to asteroids anytime soon.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:03 PM on July 17, 2011


I keep parsing it as Vespa.
posted by bwg at 7:17 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The ion engines are hella cool. Over the lifetime of the mission, they'll impart a total delta-v (change in velocity) of over 10 km/s -- the same amount needed to get into low Earth orbit, if you were able to expend it in 9 minutes.

T.I.E. Fighter stands for Twin Ion-Engine Fighter.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:08 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The real question is why every potato resembles something in space.

Or Elvis. Or the Virgin Mary. One of the three.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:15 PM on July 17, 2011


T.I.E. Fighter stands for Twin Ion-Engine Fighter.

So evidently the space combat scenes in Star Wars were sped up 10,000-fold?
posted by happyroach at 8:53 PM on July 17, 2011


Really, I think they looked like bowties, and somebody came up with a backronym that kinda-sorta-maybe made sense a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

But putting a satellite in orbit around an asteroid? That's pretty badass.
posted by Alterscape at 8:59 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is there a delay in pictures from orbit? If I was putting a spacecraft into orbit, or landing it, or whatever, I'd want pictures back as fast as possible. I get that the approach pictures may have been bad or boring (from the article linked by gubo), but now we're in orbit and still no good close-up pictures. Why the suspense?
posted by pashdown at 8:59 PM on July 17, 2011


There was controversy last month about how few Dawn photos NASA was releasing, discussed here. I'm glad NASA relented and allowed us to follow the approach to Vesta.

I'd use a different approach. E-mail, explain that your tax dollars paid for all of this and that your next e-mail is to the cheif of staff of your local GOP congress person, and that you expect that call to result in a call to NASA headquarters. Seriously, if my money pays for it, then you bet your ass I better see all the photos.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 PM on July 17, 2011


Yeah, I don't think we'll be sending people to asteroids anytime soon.

A manned mission to a asteroid could happen a lot quicker if we wanted it to. The time it took is a result of using ion engines, which currently need to fire for very long periods of time to significantly do anything. The plus is that they're really efficient, and Dawn is going to get to leave this orbit and go other places when it's done, instead of just doing the more common flybys.
posted by floam at 9:18 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


now we're in orbit and still no good close-up pictures

Dawn is in orbit, but not yet up close up. It will take a couple more weeks of thrusting to get down to the orbit planned for the initial survey photography, and it can't communicate much while it is thrusting because its antenna isn't independently steerable.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 9:50 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Dawn tweets, takes pictures..."

Dawn just announced that he's getting married to #stephenfry! The celebration will be webcam'ed live, and #richarddawkins will officiate the ceremony!
posted by markkraft at 12:33 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


now we're in orbit and still no good close-up pictures. Why the suspense?

It takes many, many man-hours to convincingly 'shop out all the cloudy cracked translucent domes, gleaming crumbling spires, and twisted silver ribbons of roadway that are all that remains of the Dead City of X'ar.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:37 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Dawn is in orbit, but not yet up close up. It will take a couple more weeks of thrusting to get down"

This, ironically enough, is part of the reason that #stephenfry is getting married to Dawn.

That, and the fact that Dawn would like to settle down, and has had very poor luck indeed with GRINDR. So hard finding anyone nearby in Dawn's neighborhood, really!
posted by markkraft at 12:37 AM on July 18, 2011


How much mine-able ore do you think that thing's got in it? If we have to do mountaintop removal, I'd rather we do it there rather than here...
posted by mikelieman at 5:16 AM on July 18, 2011


Better they should be looking for organics... there won't be any rain forests left in the not-too-distant future, which means the drug companies will have to be looking elsewhere for compounds they can develop into drugs to keep rich white people alive.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 5:41 AM on July 18, 2011


How much mine-able ore do you think that thing's got in it? If we have to do mountaintop removal, I'd rather we do it there rather than here...

Refining ore is nasty business too, if we could refine it there and then land refined metal into ocean I think that would be a big win.

Sadly, it will still be cheaper (in the short term at least) to just destory our biome.
posted by papercrane at 6:46 AM on July 18, 2011


Vesta is heavy enough for an orbit, but it's probably not going to be a very fast orbit.

There's at least one asteroid with an object orbiting that's vastly smaller than 4 Vesta -- damned if I can find it, but it looked like a small potato orbiting a much larger one.

4 Vesta is *right* on the line between asteroid and Dwarf Planet. On first look, it's not in obvious hydrostatic equilibrium, but it is close. There's a large basin on one of the poles that may be an impact crater, if so, it may be that Vesta was there, and then had a hole cut of of it later, which may mean that Vesta will join the ranks of Dwarf Planets.

In general, dwarf planets lose the # in the designation in most reference, but they're still assigned. So, we have the odd situation of the first dwarf planet discovered being 1 Ceres, and the second being 134340 Pluto. It will drop to third if 4 Vesta is declared to also be a dwarf planet.
posted by eriko at 6:58 AM on July 18, 2011


But putting a satellite in orbit around an asteroid? That's pretty badass.

You think that's badass? When Dawn is done with its work at Vesta, it's going to get its bearings, fire up those TIE fighter engines again, cruise over to the largest asteroid, Ceres, and then go into orbit there.
posted by aught at 7:01 AM on July 18, 2011


There's at least one asteroid with an object orbiting that's vastly smaller than 4 Vesta -- damned if I can find it, but it looked like a small potato orbiting a much larger one.

You might mean Ida (about 50 mi long) and its satellite, Dactyl - it's gotten the most press of all asteroids with moons. At this point, though, I think there are quite a number of smallish asteroids or minor planets known to have "moons."
posted by aught at 7:07 AM on July 18, 2011


Now don't get me wrong: I love this stuff, and I'm all for it (More missions! I say).

But, I'm waiting for the "we spent $343.5 million to go orbit a rock in space!" public backlash. Especially in these woeful economic times.
posted by ecorrocio at 7:52 AM on July 18, 2011


ecorrocio My reply is simple: that's less than the cost of one day in Iraq.
posted by sotonohito at 7:55 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


sotonohito: So right. Funny how perception works tho... People will complain about a scientific mission that develops new technology and expands our horizons, and ignore a couple wars. Just sayin.
posted by ecorrocio at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2011


But, I'm waiting for the "we spent $343.5 million to go orbit a rock in space!" public backlash.

Nah. Unmanned missions don't usually have the glamor to be covered my the mainstream media. No risk of violent death, no celebrities, no threat to national security, no movie, tv, or fast-food tie-in. It was only Steve Squires working his ass off anthropomorphizing the living hell out of the Mars rovers at every opportunity (so to speak) like they were his own human daughters packed and rocketed off to the Red Planet that got that mission a little mainstream special-interest coverage.
posted by aught at 8:21 AM on July 18, 2011


Why is everything Arizona-sized?

Correction.
posted by popechunk at 8:21 AM on July 18, 2011


Why does everything in space resemble a potato?

From our very limited perspective, yes, they do. But, once we gather photographic evidence from the very edge of the sun's gravity well we'll see things that resemble carrot slices, onion chunks and shredded beef.
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2011


Phil Plait: "… and I’ll add, we almost didn’t go. Back in 2005/6, this mission was actually canceled by NASA, causing quite the stir in the astronomy community. However, a strong voice was raised against this cutback, and Dawn was back on. After a long, long journey, it’s now where it belongs: in deep space, exploring, doing science, and expanding our frontiers. I can hope the same will be true for JWST."
posted by homunculus at 2:34 PM on July 18, 2011


what i want to know is what that big wierd lump with all the odd flows around it is...looks to me like something quite large, but moving with almost negligible relative velocity just sort of landed there (as opposed to the usual scenario of rapidly moving impactors leaving a crater behind)...which is...odd...odd, indeed.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:15 PM on July 18, 2011




NASA Messenger leaves Earth behind

There's a shiny spot on the earth, making the video look CGIish. What is that spot, the sun?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:43 AM on July 21, 2011


(not really sure what messenger has to do with this, but...) yes, dear, that's a reflection of the sun, mostly off the ocean surface...if you look for it in high-res still images of the earth it has a quite beautiful frosty quality...like frosted glass...
posted by sexyrobot at 10:10 PM on July 21, 2011


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