Vesta, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft
In this image of Vesta, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft just shortly before the beginning of high altitude mapping orbit, north is up and the upper right corner is to the northeast. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has completed a gentle spiral into its new science orbit for an even closer view of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn began sending science data on Sept. 29 from this new orbit, known as the high altitude mapping orbit (HAMO).

In this orbit, the average distance from the spacecraft to the Vesta surface is 420 miles (680 kilometers), which is four times closer than the previous survey orbit. The spacecraft will operate in the same basic manner as it did in the survey orbit. When Dawn is over Vesta’s dayside, it will point its science instruments to the giant asteroid and acquire data, and when the spacecraft flies over the nightside, it will beam that data back to Earth.