The U.S. Space Agency NASA has launched a spacecraft to explore two giant asteroids between Mars and Jupiter. 

The probe called Dawn lifted off Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  It is expected to enter orbit around the asteroid Vesta in 2011, where it will spend several months before proceeding to Ceres. 

Dawn will travel a total distance of 5.1 billion kilometers during its eight year mission.

NASA officials say the mission aims to discover the mysteries of planetary formation.
Discovered in 1807, Vesta is smaller than Ceres and has a rocky surface similar to the Earth's moon.  Ceres, discovered in 1801, is classified as a dwarf planet and scientists believe it may have a layer of ice under its crust.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.