The Dawn mission was launched on 27 September 2007. The objective of the mission is the most thorough investigation of two asteroids: Vesta and Ceres. With Dawn, researchers expect to find out what happened during the first few millions of years after the planets were formed.
Varied impact craters, valleys, canyons and mountains among the highest in the Solar System are revealed on the first images of the asteroid Vesta.
On 11 May 2011, the camera on board the Dawn spacecraft acquired its first picture of the asteroid Vesta. Despite its diameter of 530 kilometres, this heavenly body appeared as no more than a white dot in the image – at that time, the spacecraft was still 975,000 kilometres away from its destination.
A giant impact crater on its south pole; deep grooves around its equator; dark material on the craters that puzzles planetary researchers; and a mountain more than twice the height of Mount Everest.
Even though it doesn’t quite qualify as a 'proper' planet, the second most massive asteroid in the Solar System, Vesta – which has a diameter of approximately 530 kilometres – exhibits numerous planetary characteristics. This is just one of the many significant results of NASA's Dawn mission, published in the journal Science on 11 May 2012. The Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Vesta since 16 July 2011. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is involved in the mission.