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The Dawn spacecraft will employ ion propulsion to explore two of the asteroid belt's most intriguing and dissimilar occupants: asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.
Dawn's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of the solar system's earliest epoch by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formations. Ceres and Vesta reside in the extensive zone between Mars and Jupiter together with many other smaller bodies, called the asteroid belt. Each has followed a very different evolutionary path constrained by the diversity of processes that operated during the first few million years of solar system evolution.
Dawn has much to offer the general public. It brings images of varied landscapes on previously unseen worlds to the public including mountains, canyons, craters, lava flows, polar caps and, possibly ancient lakebeds, streambeds and gullies. Students can follow the mission over an entire K-12 experience as the mission is built, cruises to Vesta and Ceres and returns data. The public will be able to participate through the Solar System Ambassadors and through participation on the web.