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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU and Las Cruces Natural History Museum to host Vesta Fiesta

New Mexico State University's Astronomy Department, the Las Cruces Natural History Museum and the Southern New Mexico Natural History Foundation invite the campus and community to celebrate the beginning of the NASA Dawn mission's yearlong visit to the protoplanet Vesta, 143 million miles from Earth.

The Vesta Fiesta is planned from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, August 6, at the NMSU Tombaugh Observatory as part of the Las Cruces Natural History Museum's Sky Safari program.

NASA's Dawn mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter left Earth on Sept. 27, 2007, and is approaching Vesta, which has been bombarded by meteorites for more than 4 billion years. Astronomers expect it to be a lot like the moon. Vesta Fiesta attendees can take part in activities like accretion tag, build their own star finder and observe Vesta and the comet Garradd. Astronomy graduate student Adam McKay also will be on hand to give a presentation on small bodies in the solar system and an overview of the Dawn mission.

"This is a unique event for families to come together to see a comet and asteroid through a telescope and learn about a current NASA mission," said NMSU graduate student and event coordinator Malynda Chizek.

Dawn is the second NASA mission to be powered by an advanced NASA technology known as ion propulsion, and is the first NASA mission to orbit two solar system objects. After visiting Vesta, the spacecraft will study the dwarf planet Ceres.

Beginning in September, the spacecraft will orbit Vesta about 400 miles from its surface, then move to 125 miles from the surface, starting in November. Dawn's cameras should be able to see individual lava flows and craters on Vesta's surface.

Using data from Dawn's yearlong visit at Vesta, scientists will seek to understand some of the most fundamental questions in planetary science: How did planets form? What were the starting materials that formed our solar system? What is the origin of meteorites that fall on Earth? The Dawn Spacecraft will send back new and exciting data that researchers expect will provide a snapshot of the early solar system and answers to these questions.

The event is free and guests are encouraged to dress festively. For more information contact Chizek at 575-646-7724.