Mission controllers received confirmation Wednesday that NASA's Dawn spacecraft has escaped from the gentle gravitational grip of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn is now officially on its way to its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres.
Dawn departed from Vesta at about 2326 PDT on September 4. Communications from the spacecraft via NASA's Deep Space Network confirmed the departure and that the spacecraft is now traveling toward Ceres. "As we respectfully say goodbye to Vesta and reflect on the amazing discoveries over the past year, we eagerly look forward to the next phase of our adventure at Ceres, where even more exciting discoveries await,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
Launched on September 27, 2007, Dawn slipped into orbit around Vesta in mid July. Over the past year, Dawn has comprehensively mapped this previously uncharted world, revealing an exotic and diverse planetary building block. The findings are helping scientists unlock some of the secrets of how the solar system, including our own Earth, was formed.
Dawn spiraled away from Vesta as gently as it arrived. It is expected to pull into its next port of call, Ceres, in early 2015.