The DAWN Mission to Asteroid Vesta – Lessons Learned & Questions Raised


The DAWN Mission to Asteroid Vesta – Lessons Learned & Questions Raised


Michael Gaffey

About the Speaker

Dr. Michael Gaffey is a Participating Scientist on the DAWN at Vesta mission, and has studied Vesta using Earth-based telescopes for more than thirty years. Dr. Gaffey joined the UND Aerospace School’s Space Studies Department in 2001, having retired after seventeen years with the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

His prior affiliations include the Planetary Geoscience Group and Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii (seven years), the MIT Planetary Astronomy Laboratory (PhD Student and post-doc), and the Geology / Astronomy Departments at the University of Iowa (BA & MS).

Dr. Gaffey is a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor at UND, a Leonard Medal winner from the Meteoritical Society, a recipient of the G. K. Gilbert Prize from the Geologic Society of America, and recipient of the Thomas J. Clifford Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Research. Asteroid 3545 was named Gaffey in recognition of his contribution to the field.



The DAWN mission to asteroids (4) Vesta and (1) Ceres was the ninth mission in NASA’s low cost Discovery Program. The spacecraft was launched in September 2007 and went into orbit around the large main belt asteroid (4) Vesta in July 2011, staying in orbit until September 2012, before departing for a rendezvous with asteroid (1) Ceres in mid-2015.

During the more than a year in orbit, the DAWN spacecraft imaged the surface at high resolution and in many colors to map surface units. Additionally visible and near-infra spectra were obtained of nearly the entire surface to assess surface mineralogy, and gamma ray spectra were obtained to map elemental composition of the surface. Although Vesta had been the most intensely investigated asteroid prior to the DAWN mission, many surprises awaited the science team once data began to be returned.

One major goal of the mission was to test this asteroid as the parent body of the most common type of igneous meteorites, the HEDs. Confirming such a link would allow the detailed chemical and chronological data from the HED to be used to outline the geologic history of this largest igneous body in the asteroid belt.


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Grand Forks, ND

The DAWN Mission to Asteroid Vesta – Lessons Learned & Questions Raised