Having explored the giant asteroid Vesta and on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, the Dawn spacecraft is designed to conduct an in-depth and up-close study of these two celestial bodies believed to have formed early in the history of the solar system.

During its mission, Dawn will characterize the early solar system and the processes that shaped its formation. Data returned from the Dawn spacecraft could provide opportunities for significant breakthroughs in our knowledge of how the solar system formed.

Mission Events

July 15, 2011: Dawn enters orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta, becoming the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

July 18, 2011: Dawn returns the first close-up image of the giant asteroid Vesta.

Aug. 11, 2011: Dawn begins science investigations, or survey orbits, at Vesta starting at roughly 1700 miles (2700 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid and spiraling down to as close as 130 miles (210 kilometers) during its low altitude mapping phase.

Sept. 4, 2012: Dawn departs the giant asteroid Vesta.

Early 2015: Dawn arrives at the dwarf planet Ceres to begin science investigations.

Key Discoveries

October 2012: Scientist release early findings from Dawn's observations at the giant asteroid Vesta, including one of the largest mountains in the solar system on Vesta's southern hemisphere; the diverse composition of the asteroid, particularly around craters; and an in-depth analysis of a set of equatorial troughs on Vesta's surface.

Scientific Instrument(s)

- Camera
- Gamma ray spectrometer
- Neutron spectrometer
- Visible mapping spectrometer
- Infrared mapping spectrometer
- Gravity measurements (using telecommunications subsystem and Deep Space Network)