Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Vesta Fiesta! Dawn Arrives at Vesta (and New York City)

An article for Eyepiece, the publication of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York
Monday, August 22, 2011

Dawn, the ion-propelled, double-destination, strive-against-impossible-odds spacecraft has arrived at Vesta. Dawn is the first spacecraft to visit this second-largest body in the asteroid best. Its goal is to orbit the 300-mile-wide asteroid and learn about its composition, properties and history. Vesta is the source of a significant fraction of all meteorites found on Earth, as determined by comparing the spectra of Vesta to that of meteorites such as samples of the Eucrite Camel Donga and the Howardite Dar al Gani. The tantalizing thing about these meteorite samples that helped drive the mission to Vesta by Dawn was that they all were igneous rocks, formed by processes not much different than the magmatic processes of the Earth. However, these samples are all about 4.5 billion years old. Thus, the impact event on Vesta that liberated these meteorites sent us messengers from the conditions at the origin of the Solar System. Thus Dawn seeks to examine close-up for the first time, two ancient bodies who have not changed practically at all since the dawn of the Solar System. Vesta is the first stop. Dawn arrived on July 16 by the gentlest of engines. Using its ion-propulsion drive, getting into orbit was not a matter of a Main Engine Burn with which we are quite familiar, but rather it eased into orbit, much like two planes flying in formation. Dawn will orbit Vesta for one year, fully mapping the topography of Vesta in many colors, gathering spectral signatures using a spectrometer capable of seeing and imaging in infrared and visible light, and examining the elemental composition with a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer. The interior will also be probed with gravitational experiments, hoping to determine how extensively this planetesimal differentiated its interior.

Already, Dawn has captured amazing images of grooves running around the equator of Vesta, like shock waves in rock. The science team is baffled by the huge color variations and extreme albedo differences across the surface. The South Pole is one giant crater, that may show the exposed mantle of Vesta. On Earth, this would be the equivalent of gouging out the entire Pacific basin to a depth of 50 miles.

I've personally had an intimate dealing with the science and EPO team at Dawn. As part of my efforts as one of NASA's Solar System Ambassadors, I frequently attend phone calls on various missions. After the conclusion of our training on Dawn, the head of Education and Public Outreach, stated that he thought it'd be a fun to have a song contest as part of their headlining effort: a nationwide “Vesta Fiesta.” Smelling an opportunity, I said, “My wife is a composer and award-winning songwriter, would you like me to talk to her?” On the other end of the phone, they said OK, not really thinking much would come of it. Upon arrival at home, I told Donna about this opportunity, and she leapt into action. Within a week, she'd written the lyrics and had created a basic jingle, and had a completed product in two weeks. Using a local producer, we created a professional recording and sent it, along with some sheet music off to the Dawn team. The response was immediate: they wanted the song to be part of the Vesta Fiesta in Pasadena, and they also promised to put it up on the NASA website for Dawn. Well, off we went. In the intervening time, I gave three talks around town as part of my volunteer NASA outreach, one at the New York City Public Library, one at a Nature Center in Inwood Hill Park, and one at NYSKies at McBurney Hall at 14th Street YMCA. At each event, Donna brought her fellow performer on the recording, Tony Imgrund, and performed it live.

But the best was yet to come. The morning after our talk at NYSKies, we caught a 7:00 AM flight to Los Angeles to go to the official Vesta Fiesta in Pasadena. Upon arrival at the convention center, everyone we met who was part of the Dawn outreach team gave Donna big praise for her song. She was a star. The attendance at the conference was about 300 and we gave away free copies of the song to everyone. There were numerous activities for kids and adults featuring scale models of Dawn and its Ion Engines and meteorites from Vesta. At the end of the day, the science team presented its latest findings. We watched as raw, unprocessed images were streamed live from Dawn itself, coming down pixel by pixel through NASA's Deep Space Network. During the Q&A session the science team applauded Donna and I for creating and bringing the song to so many people. They asked Donna, “So, will you write a song for the Ceres Celebration in 2015, when Dawn arrives there?” Judging by how happy she was at dinner that night and how soundly she slept on the plane coming home, I think the answer is emphatically yes.

Learn more about Dawn here: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/

Hear Donna's song: http://www.DonnaStearns.com

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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