NASA has announced that the launching of the Dawn spacecraft, which is preparing to explore two of the solar system’s largest asteroids, has been postponed again until September. The mission had first been delayed until July 15 because of the August launches of the space shuttle Endeavour and the Phoenix Mars lander. The launch was also postponed because of storms at the launch pad which prevented loading its fuel. Also, a plane used to track the spacecraft after liftoff was having mechanical problems, and the ship wasn’t in the correct location. NASA has until the end of October to begin the mission before the two asteroids begin to drift apart. If they miss it, it will take 15 years for them to get close to each other again.

The spacecraft is said to start a years-long study of the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, located between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta will be the first and smaller of the two asteroids to be studied four years from now. Vesta is irregularly shaped and about the size of Arizona. Photos taken by the Hubble telescope show the asteroid’s southern hemisphere. A crater there, caused by an ancient collision, is said to be 285 miles long. The collision has created several smaller asteroids called vestoids.

Vesta will meet up with Ceres in 2015 which is considered both an asteroid and a dwarf planet. After being thought to be a planet upon its discovery in 1801, it, along with Pluto, were recently examined and had their status changed by researchers. Ceres is round like a planet and about the size of Texas. It contains 30 to 40 percent of all of the mass in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The ship will explore color differences from photographs taken from it that reflect differences in surface chemicals, some of it probably due to volcanic activity. The interior is said to be layered like Earth’s and may have a rocky core, icy mantle, and thin crust with the possibility of water being contained inside as well. While the space program may be dead in terms of pop culture, the study of these two asteroids will be an exciting undertaking for NASA.

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