(Above: 4 Vesta)
Above is a wonderful picture of 4 Vesta, and beneath is Vesta and the largest asteroid/protoplanet Ceres. People mourning Pluto’s death as an official planet probably don’t know Ceres was the first planet to have it’s designation stripped. It is also the only dwarf/minor planet to exist in the inner solar system. There is a huge likelihood that anyone reading this have never heard of Ceres (or Vesta).
The image of Ceres is literally the best picture in existence. A satellite has never gotten close (until 2015 when the Dawn spacecraft, which just left it’s safe orbit around Vesta, arrives at Ceres) so Hubble has the only images worth looking at. Here is another set of images from Hubble which highlights a very bright surface feature on Ceres (no one is sure what the nature of it is, and we won’t until mid-2015):
The year 2015 is going to be amazing in terms of space images and discoveries. With two probes/spacecraft heading to two separate dwarf planets that were once considered full-fledged planets (Ceres and Pluto).. what a great year it’ll be. After viewing the best photos of Ceres, I will show you the best we have of Pluto to illustrate how we will be adding VERY detailed maps to two new places we know almost nothing about:
I guess this post ignores the 400 mile asteroid that we have amazing high-res photos and maps of, Vesta. But, the unknown always seems to be more fun. Just quick facts, Vesta is not near as round as Ceres. Ceres is the largest belt object, representing 1/3 of the entire mass inside the asteroid belt, with Vesta a somewhat close 2nd. I keep wanting to lay down facts about Ceres even though Vesta is a really beautiful and amazing place. It’s just that Ceres may habor past and present life and also exists close enough to the Sun to have seasons that allow for the melting of ice (liquid SURFACE water). We will be sending the Dawn probe in several orbits ranging from a few thousand all the way down to 100 miles from it’s surface. We will know more about the surface of Ceres than we will of Earth.