This morning NASA launched a spacecraft that's headed to the asteroid belt, where it will get a close-up look at the belt's largest bodies, asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. It's NASA’s first multi-target mission, and Dawn, which one engineer called “the first real interplanetary spaceship,” could tell scientists much about the early solar system.
Sporting three ion engines—TIE Fighters only had two—the Delta II rocket will be able to orbit the two bodies—in 4 and 7 years, respectively—before returning to Earth. Vesta has a dry, rocky surface of frozen lava, while Ceres is an icy sphere. “Many people think of asteroids as kind of little chips of rock,” an engineer said. “But the places that Dawn is going to really are more like worlds.”