Dawn Mission Extended at Ceres a Second Time
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NASA has authorized a second extension of the Dawn mission at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. During this extension, the spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before at the dwarf planet, which it has been orbiting since March 2015. The spacecraft will continue at Ceres for the remainder of its science investigation and will remain in a stable orbit indefinitely after its hydrazine fuel runs out. The Dawn flight team is studying ways to maneuver Dawn into a new elliptical orbit, which may take the spacecraft to less than 120 miles (200 kilometers) from the surface of Ceres at closest approach. Previously, Dawn’s lowest altitude was 240 miles (385 kilometers). A priority of the second Ceres mission extension is collecting data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons. This information is important for understanding the composition of Ceres’ uppermost layer … Continue reading

Across the Universe: Spotting Ceres
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This column first ran in The Tablet in March 2015 Ceres was the first body found in the region between Mars and Jupiter now called the Asteroid Belt. In the late 1700s Titius and Bode had noted a pattern in planet positions that suggested there should be a planet in the gap between Mars and Jupiter; on New Year’s Day of 1801, Father Giuseppi Piazzi found Ceres from his observatory in Sicily. They expected a planet, so that’s what they called Ceres – though William Herschel, who had just discovered the gas giant Uranus, sniffed that such a tiny dot of light was neither planet nor star (Latin, “aster”) but a mere “asteroid.” Only fifty years later, when a number of other such small bodies had been found, did Ceres and the other asteroids get “demoted” to the status of “minor planet.” (And later work showed that the Titius-Bode pattern which predicted a planet at Ceres’ position was actually just … Continue reading

Dawn Probe to Remain in Ceres Orbit
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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has completed its primary mission – to explore the two most massive bodies in the main asteroid belt: asteroid 4 Vesta, and dwarf planet Ceres. After a recent mission extension, Dawn will continue studying Ceres – essentially becoming a long-term reconnaissance orbiter. Extended missions approved for @NASA_Dawn, Mars orbiters, @LRO_NASA, @NASANewHorizons, more: https://t.co/vPXmOYGjW5 pic.twitter.com/Qrzcyeg8zP — NASA Solar System (@NASASolarSystem) July 1, 2016 One of the advantages of long-term observations is seeing changes that occur over time, as with the seasonally recurring slope lineae on Mars, and fresh impact craters on both the Moon and Mars. There was a brief period of confusion on various social media sites, as rumors that Dawn was possibly going to leave Ceres and fly-by asteroid 145 Adeona, but Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, noted that long-term monitoring of Ceres had more of a potential for significant scientific discoveries than a flyby of Adeona. Scientists have found permanently shadowed craters on Ceres; … Continue reading

Dawn Mapping of Ceres Continues
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The Dawn mission as almost completely mapped the surface of dwarf planet Ceres at a resolution of 35 meters (120 feet) per pixel – far surpassing the original objective of imaging 80% percent of Ceres’ surface at a resolution of 200 meters (660 feet) per pixel. From the Dawn Blog: “Since April 11, instead of photographing the scenery directly beneath it, Dawn has been aiming its camera to the left and forward as it orbits and Ceres rotates. By May 25, it will have mapped most of the globe from that angle. Then it will start all over once more, looking instead to the right and forward from May 27 through July 10. The different perspectives on the terrain make stereo views, which scientists can combine to bring out the full three dimensionality of the alien world.” Dawn is using its gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) to reveal the atomic composition of Ceres’ crust to a depth of about a … Continue reading

Bright Spot on Ceres in Hi-Rez
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The Dawn mission team has produced this high-resolution enhanced-color image of the bright spots in Occator crater on Ceres. In the crater’s center, the close-up reveals a fractured dome surrounded by a smooth-walled pit. The image above was created by combining high-resolution images of Occator crater obtained in February 2016, with color images obtained in September 2015. Color images were taken using 438, 550 and 965 nanometer filters (the latter in the near-infrared, and slightly beyond the range of human vision). Compare that with the image below, taken during Dawn’s approach to Ceres in early 2015; at that time, the spots were all over the news as “The Mysterious Bright Spots.” The bright spots on Ceres are best explained as the result of briny water erupting from Ceres’ interior, and then sublimating away into space, leaving behind salty deposits and ammonia-rich clays. More Info: Dawn Mission Page Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf … Continue reading

Color Topography of Ahuna Mons on Ceres
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The Dawn mission team as released colorized topographic views of the region around Ahuna Mons, a mysterious conical mountain on Ceres. Both views were created using images taken at an orbital distance of about 385 km (240 mi) above the surface, with a resolution of about 35 m (120 ft) per pixel. The elevations span a range of about 9 km (5.5 mi) from the lowest places (blue) to the highest terrains (brown). The side perspective view (below) was created by draping image mosaics over a shape model. Congratulations to the Dawn mission team for winning not one but TWO awards! National Aeronautic Association Robert J. Collier Trophy, presented annually “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency and safety of air or space vehicles.” National Space Club and Foundation’s Nelson P. Jackson Award, presented annually for “a significant contribution to the missile, aircraft or space field.” More Info: Dawn Mission … Continue reading

Images from Dawn’s Low Altitude Mapping Orbit
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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft recently reached its lowest altitude orbit over dwarf planet Ceres, and has been returning images of craters on Ceres with a network of cracks, bright material exposed on crater rims, and in spots all over the surface, and rough cratered terrain everywhere. The Dawn spacecraft has returned more than 16,000 pictures of Ceres in 2015, including more than 2,000 since descending to its low orbit in December 2015. January 1, 2016 is the 215th anniversary of Giuseppe Piazzi’s discovery of Ceres. More: New Details On Ceres Seen in Dawn Images Dawn Blog Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble Space Telescope Dawn Inches Ever Closer to Ceres Ceres Ever Closer Ceres to Capture Dawn Today Where are all the new images of Ceres? Just a Sliver of Ceres Dawn Spies Ceres’ North Pole Ceres from Dawn’s RC3 Orbit Cratered … Continue reading

Ceres South Polar Region
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The Dawn spacecraft is orbiting Ceres at its final altitude of 385 km (240 mi). The Dawn Twitter feed has been awash recently with images of the surface of the dwarf planet. The image above shows an area near Ceres’ south polar region. The shadows appear elongated because from this perspective, so close to Ceres’ south pole, the sun is never very high in the sky. On Dec. 18, 2015, the Dawn twitter feed posted that the spacecraft had begun intensive observations of Ceres. Update: Today I begin my intensive observations of #Ceres at this lowest altitude (~240 mi) pic.twitter.com/yUWFsPaxj9 — NASA's Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) December 18, 2015 Today, on the final day of 2015, the Dawn Twitter feed posted a video showing some of the amazing images the Dawn spacecraft has returned from Ceres over the past year. I've had an amazing first year at #Ceres! Some photos of my journey: pic.twitter.com/g3z1SMRBF7 — NASA's Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) December 31, … Continue reading

Dawn Mission High Altitude Mapping Orbit Complete
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NASA’s Dawn Mission has completed its High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) survey mission of dwarf planet Ceres, and is sending data back to Earth. The Dawn Twitter feed posts announcements and new images frequently. I have completed my #Ceres mapping campaign at my current altitude! Beaming data back now; will start descending later this week. — NASA’s Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) October 21, 2015 Later this year, the spacecraft it will spiral down from it’s current altitude of 1,470 km (915 mi) to its fourth and final orbital altitude at about 375 km (230 mi) above Ceres; it will take two months to descend to this new Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO). Once at its LAMO, Dawn will record spectra of visible & infrared light, neutrons & gamma rays, and measure the distribution of mass inside Ceres. And take pictures… lots and LOTS of pictures. Maybe then, we’ll finally know what those bright spots in Occator crater are. Next year, the … Continue reading

Bright Mountains and Craters on Ceres
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NASA’s Dawn mission, is mapping dwarf planet Ceres from its high altitude mapping orbit (HAMO), and is returning more detailed images of the surface of this enigmatic world in the heart of the main asteroid belt. This 6 km (4 mile) tall conical mountain the northern hemisphere of Ceres has a bright, sharply defined perimeter, with almost no debris accumulated at the base. This image shows a portion of the northern hemisphere of Ceres. Note the crater with bright rim walls, and a splash pattern. I find the double-crater near the center-top of this image particularly interesting – there is little or no crater rim overlap, so it may have been a double-impact, and there appears to be a central peak in the center of the figure 8 structure. Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble Space Telescope Dawn Inches Ever Closer … Continue reading

Dawn Mission Enters High Altitude Mapping Orbit Over Ceres
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NASA’s DAWN mission has entered into its High Altitude Mapping Orbit over Ceres; in addition to acquiring even higher resolution images of the dwarf planets cratered surface, Dawn will make use its color filters to gather more data about the nature of its surface, and its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will collect spectra to help determine Ceres’ surface composition, temperature, and other properties. The DAWN spacecraft will remain in this orbit until the end of October, when it will engage its ion engine again, and begin spiraling down towards its Low Altitude Mapping Orbit – which it should achieve in mid-December. I’ve completed my spiral descent to my new orbit, #HAMO! Avg altitude 915 mi (1470 km) above #Ceres. I expect to start mapping next week — NASA’s Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) August 13, 2015 Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble … Continue reading

Video Tour of Ceres
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Take a video tour of Dwarf Planet Ceres! Mission director Marc Rayman narrates a visit to a 2-mile-deep crater, and a 4-mile-tall mountain on Ceres’ surface. Grab your red/blue 3D glasses for a global view of the mysterious dwarf plant. Data for this video was generated from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, currently in orbit around Ceres. Also in The Dawn Misson to the Asteroid Belt Dawn Mission Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres Rotating Dawn Images of Ceres now Better Than the Hubble Space Telescope Dawn Inches Ever Closer to Ceres Ceres Ever Closer Ceres to Capture Dawn Today Where are all the new images of Ceres? Just a Sliver of Ceres Dawn Spies Ceres’ North Pole Ceres from Dawn’s RC3 Orbit Cratered Crescent Ceres from RC3 Ceres Begins Slow Spiral to Survey Orbit More Features Visible on Ceres From Dawn’s Survey Orbit Ceres Fly Over Video Tour of Ceres Dawn Mission Enters High Altitude Mapping Orbit Over Ceres Bright Mountains and Craters … Continue reading