Watch NASA’s Dawn spacecraft zoom toward the second-largest body in the asteroid belt.
In the chaotic swarm of rock fragments that swirl between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, a gritty asteroid the size of Arizona prepared for its close-up. Between May and June of 2011, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captured images as it zoomed toward Vesta, the second-largest asteroid to inhabit the asteroid belt. First discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers in Germany in 1807, Vesta is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Because it hasn’t been smashed to bits by erratic space debris, scientists can study its mostly intact structure to gain clues into the way it was formed in the early universe. Watch the video to see Vesta grow large as Dawn approaches this distant world.