Dawn now permanently in asteroid belt

Nov. 16, 2009 at 2:47 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Nov. 16 (UPI) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has become the first human-made object to permanently remain in the solar system's asteroid belt.

The space agency said Dawn first entered the belt in June 2008, remaining there for 40 days before its planned orbital path brought below the asteroid belt's lower boundary.

But on Friday, Dawn again entered the asteroid belt and will remain there for the foreseeable future, the space agency said.

"The mission of the 1,098-kilogram (2,421-pound) Dawn spacecraft is to reconnoiter Vesta and Ceres, the asteroid belt's two most massive inhabitants -- the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres," NASA said. "The goal of this eight-year, 4.9-billion-kilometer (3-billion-mile) mission is to answer basic questions about the formation of planets in our solar system."

Scientists said the unmanned Dawn spacecraft will be the first ever to orbit two planetary bodies on a single voyage. Dawn is about 616 days away from arrival at its first celestial objective, asteroid Vesta.

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