In mid-July NASA’s Dawn spacecraft went into orbit around Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the main belt. Dawn will study this enigmatic object up close until July 2012. As Arizona State University planetary scientist Jim Bell explains in his feature article in the November 2011 issue, Vesta’s volcanic-like composition is quite different from that of most other main-belt asteroids, suggesting that its interior long ago separated into distinct layers. Jim and his fellow asteroid researchers will learn a great deal about Vesta’s character and history over the coming year.
Besides being an expert on asteroids, Jim is also keenly interested in Mars. He is the leader of the Panoramic Camera team for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. He authored the feature article about Mars mineralogy in the July 2009 issue of S&T.
Click here to listen to an 18-minute audio interview with Jim as he discusses the Dawn mission at Vesta and gives the latest on the rover exploration of Mars.