Space Scientists Say “Hasta La Vista” to Asteroid Vesta with Release of Citizen Science Project

Sept. 7, 2012

When: Saturday, Sept. 8, 2 to 4 p.m. CDT

What: NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been exploring the asteroid Vesta for the past year and is now headed toward Ceres, the largest known asteroid. To celebrate the successful exploration of Vesta, Dawn scientists and engineers will share mission stories and answer questions submitted via Facebook, Twitter and email in a live, interactive video event.  They will also launch the new Asteroid Mappers project, which will enlist the public’s help to analyze Dawn mission data.

Where: Join us from your computer — anywhere in the world! You can participate through Google+, NASA's website, or YouTube.

Who: Scientists and engineers participating in the online event hail from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Planetary Science Institute, CosmoQuest and The University of Texas at Austin.

Dawn’s traverse of the asteroid belt and visit to two of its largest bodies are enabled by its “science fiction come-to-life” ion engine and marks NASA’s first major mission powered by ion propulsion technology. Engineers who fly the spacecraft and built the ion engine will be on hand to discuss the system and take questions.

During the event, the Dawn mission will announce a new "citizen science" project called Asteroid Mappers, in collaboration with the CosmoQuest program. Through this new website, the public can access high-resolution images of Vesta and assist scientists in identifying craters and other features. The project is modeled after the hugely successful online project Moon Mappers.

During this two-hour event hosted by Britney Schmidt, a researcher at The University of Texas at Austin, this new project and myriad science results will be discussed with Dawn team scientists, engineers and educators.

As part of its 14-month mission at Vesta, Dawn revealed that the asteroid more closely resembles a small planet or Earth's moon than any other asteroid visited to date. Like Earth, it has a crust, mantle and iron core. Dawn confirmed that Vesta is one of the largest sources of meteorites found on Earth. Geologic discoveries made by the Dawn team — including confirming the existence of a giant south polar impact crater named Rheasilvia and finding a complex network of grooves and troughs associated with the feature — will also be discussed during Saturday’s event.

For more information, contact: Marc Airhart, College of Natural Sciences, 512 232 1066.