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NASA’s ‘Dawn’ Spacecraft Orbits Massive Asteroid

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — NASA says its Dawn spacecraft is preparing to study the massive asteroid Vesta after being captured into its orbit during the weekend.

The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Monday the capture was estimated to have occurred at 10 p.m. PDT Friday when Dawn was 9,900 miles from Vesta and 117 million miles from Earth in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Mission principal investigator Christopher Russell says it’s the beginning of a study of what is arguably the oldest existing primordial surface in the solar system.

The spacecraft will study Vesta for a year and then continue on to the most massive object in the main asteroid belt, the “dwarf planet” Ceres. That encounter is scheduled to occur in February 2015.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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