In 2011, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft established orbit around the large asteroid (aka. planetoid) known as Vesta. Over the course of the next 14 months, the probe conducted detailed studies of Vesta’s surface with its suite of scientific instruments. These findings revealed much about the planetoid’s history, its surface features, and its structure – which is believed to be differentiated, like the rocky planets.
The Dawn probe continues to excite and amaze! Since it achieved orbit around Ceres in March of 2015, it has been sending back an impressive stream of data and images on the protoplanet. In addition to capturing pictures of the mysterious “bright spots” on Ceres’ surface, it has also revealed evidence of cryovolcanism and the possibility of an interior ocean that could even support life.
It has been a busy year for Solar System exploration – and particularly our galactic neighbourhood’s small icy bodies. Comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt Objects and planetary satellites have all been in the news – from stunning images of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the start of the year, to the recent close-up of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, via Ceres and Pluto.