We recently read that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching the protoplanet Vesta, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft was launched back in September of 2007.
“We often refer to Vesta as the smallest terrestrial planet,” said Christopher T. Russell, a UCLA professor of geophysics and space physics and the mission’s principal investigator. “It has planetary features and basically the same structure as Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. But because it is so small, it does not have enough gravity to retain an atmosphere, or at least not to retain an atmosphere for very long.
You see, with Dawn’s high-quality camera we will be able to see the protoplanet through not only a visible but a near-infrared spectrometer which should identify minerals on the surface. Plus there is an onboard gamma ray and neutron spectrometer that should reveal the abundance of elements including iron and hydrogen, and quite possibly water, in the soil. Dawn is also supposed to probe Vesta’s gravity with radio signals.
Hopefully when it does so it won’t see this looking back.