Upcoming Missions: Dawn
Dawn was launched in 2007 and in July 2011 will insert itself into orbit around Vesta, the second-most massive body in the asteroid belt. Though not a planet, Vesta has some interesting characteristics, including distinctive light and dark regions that resemble the moon’s. A year later, Dawn will fire up its ion engines and make its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteriod belt. It will be the first craft to leave one celestial body’s orbit and take off for another, according to NASA.
What study Vesta and Ceres?
Well, any time you study objects in the asteriod belt you learn more about the formation of the solar system. Vesta and Ceres were chosen intentionally together as they are contrasting bodies; Vesta is “dry” or rocky, and Ceres is “wet” or icy.
“They provide a bridge in our understanding between the formation of rocky planets and the icy bodies of our solar system, and under what conditions a rocky planet can hold water.”