Vesta - a most satisfying view! Elenin discovers new comet

If you haven't already seen them, here are the latest closeup photos of the asteroid Vesta taken by Dawn. Although the spacecraft has been captured by Vesta's gravity,...

If you haven't already seen them, here are the latest closeup photos of the asteroid Vesta taken by Dawn . Although the spacecraft has been captured by Vesta's gravity, mission controllers will work for the next several weeks to tweak the orbit, so the craft is in the best position for studying and photographing the asteroid's surface. During this time, Dawn will also search for possible moons and take additional pictures of Vesta for navigation purposes. The real science begins next month.

In the photo above, we squarely face the huge 285-mile wide impact basin in Vesta's south polar region. The large mountain at center is the impact hole's central peak. You can see the rim of the basin best at upper right between the 1 and 3 o'clock positions. For reference, here's an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows the peak viewed from the side. The 'missing' material that would otherwise round out the bottom of Vesta was excavated by an enormous impact. Judging by the many craters in the area, it must have happened long ago. As for the worm-like grooves, they may be connected to the impact. The difference in detail between the two photos is amazing!

Here are a couple more. Click on the Dawn photos to see mouth-watering full-size versions:

Congratulations go out again to Leonid Elenin! He and I. Molotov discovered new comet P/2011 NO1 'remotely' on photos taken using a computer-controlled telescope at the ISON-NM Observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. The comet was discovered on July 7 and the news just announced today. Before you get too excited, P/2011 NO1 is incredibly faint (magnitude 19) and becoming fainter as it recedes from both Earth and sun in the coming months. I doubt anyone's going to see this visually through a telescope.

This second Elenin comet passed nearest the sun on January 22 this year at a distance of 115 million miles. It's currently 140 million miles from Earth. The letter 'P' in its name indicates this is a periodic or returning comet. With a period of 13 years, perhaps we'll see it sometime in the future when more favorable orbital circumstances bring it closer to Earth. A look ahead shows that on its next round in 2024, it will pass 54 million miles from us. For more on the new visitor, check out the Remanzacco Observatory blog or Elenin's own website .

What To Read Next
Get Local