The Hubble Space Telescope is still busy snapping away and capturing detailed images in deep and near space. Its latest contribution to astro-science is images of two of the largest known asteroids to date.
The pictures reveal Ceres and Vesta. Giant impact craters and other features are clearly visible on the surface of these huge free-floating space rocks.
The largest of the two is Ceres. At first glance one might be tempted to call it a small planet because of its rounded shape and size that is about as big as the whole state of Texas, approximately 950 kilometers (590 miles) wide. It is still considered a dwarf planet in astronomical circles. It is so large that nearly 40 percent of the mass of the famous asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is contained in Ceres.
The smaller asteroid, Vesta, is nothing to spurn at. It is a tad over 530 kilometers (330 miles) across (the size of the State of Nebraska) and, unlike Ceres, has a typical irregular asteroid shape to it.
Next month (July 7) both of these big boys in our celetial neighborhood will be the center of attention of NASA’s robotic spacecraft called Dawn. It will reach Vesta by 2011 and Ceres just 4 years later. Mapping out asteroid locations and paths of movement is necessary for future flight plans NASA has in store for the next 50 years beyond the asteroid belt.