NASA Dawn probe leaves Vesta asteroid

It's been a while since we talked about NASA's Dawn probe that has been in orbit around the massive asteroid called Vesta for the last 13 months. The last time we talked about Dawn was last November when the probe sent back some of the best photographs of the Vesta asteroid ever seen. NASA has now announced that it has received a signal from the Dawn probe confirming it has left Vesta behind.

Now that Dawn is finished with its probing and study of Vesta, the probe is bound for its next object of interest. Dawn is on its way to a much larger celestial body in our solar system's asteroid belt, floating between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn's new target is the dwarf planet Ceres.

Ceres is a 950 km wide target that Dawn is expected to reach in early 2015. One of the last pictures Dawn took of Vesta as it left the massive asteroid and headed to its next subject was of Vesta's northern pole, which you see here. In the picture, we can make out mountains and craters seen for the very first time as the probe departs on its way to make new discoveries.

Vesta is an interesting asteroid that has been hit with massive collisions during its life. Two massive impacts removed significant volumes of rock from the asteroid's southern pole giving it the appearance of a punctured football. These massive impacts were so gigantic that shockwaves rippled across the asteroid and produced a deep system of troughs that extend around the equator of the asteroid. The images are still being scrutinized by scientists who believe that the massive impacts are likely responsible for the terrain seen for the very first time in Dawn's parting shots.

[via BBC]