NASA releases 'close-ups' of asteroid

Dec. 22, 2011 at 9:11 PM

PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- NASA says its Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta from its closest approach to the object yet.

Taken from a low-altitude mapping orbit, the pictures show a rippled and lumpy surface in greater detail than ever before, providing scientists with clues about the solar system's early history, a release from the space agency said Wednesday.

After obtaining images from a high-altitude mapping orbit about 430 miles above Vesta's surface, Dawn moved closer to capture the latest images from a height of 115 miles.

The images were returned to Earth Dec. 13, and Dawn scientists say they'll acquire data in the low-altitude mapping orbit for at least 10 weeks.

The Dawn mission to Vesta is being managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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