Dawn spacecraft captures stunning images of huge asteroid
Scientists are poring over images of the massive asteroid Vesta, the first time it has been photographed up close.
The Dawn spacecraft last month slipped into orbit around the 330-mile-wide rocky body and began beaming back incredible details of the pockmarked surface that resembles the Moon.
Since entering orbit Dawn has taken more than 500 images, while refining its path and inching ever closer to the surface to get a better view.
The probe will officially start collecting data next week once it is positioned 1,700 miles from the surface.
Dawn so far has imaged the entire sunlit side of Vesta.
Last week it passed over a surface hidden in the shadows and saw distinct grooves.
Currently some 117 million miles from Earth, Vesta is the second biggest resident of the asteroid belt, a zone between Mars and Jupiter which is littered with hundreds of thousands of space rocks orbiting the sun.
Launched in 2007, Dawn is the first mission to explore Vesta and Ceres, the two largest members of the asteroid belt.