High-tech NASA spacecraft Dawn is set to approach Vesta by July 16.
Vesta, an asteroid located in a belt region between Mars and Jupiter that's populated by many asteroids, is interesting to scientists because it's believed to be a remnant of an embryonic planet.
As such, it may hold answers to theories regarding how planets like the earth were formed.
We can't wait for Dawn to peel back the layers of time and reveal the early history of our solar system, said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, at UCLA.
Another exciting feature of the trip is the Dawn spacecraft itself. Launched in 2007, it features futurist ion (electrically charged atom or molecule) thrusters. A major advantage of this technology is less fuel usage, which enables the Dawn to embark on a very long mission.
The Dawn will also be the first spacecraft to visit Vesta and then Ceres (a nearby dwarf planet). Moreover, it'll be the first spacecraft to orbit around celestial bodies for prolonged periods to collect detailed data. Previously, spacecrafts just flew by celestial bodies to collect data in a limited time frame.
The Dawn will study Vesta between 2011 and 2012 and Ceres in 2015. Below are artist renderings of Dawn's approach to Vesta and other photos.