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

Just a Sliver of Ceres
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The Dawn spacecraft continues to slowly emerge from the dark side of Ceres; the Dawn mission team promises new images next week. Not yet, @AndrewLabmonkey, data today, images sometime next week, just a sliver of #Ceres.. Moving to the #sunnyside! pic.twitter.com/dPmVoS0I63 — NASA’s Dawn Mission (@NASA_Dawn) April 10, 2015 The mission team mentions that there is currently only a sliver of Ceres visible to Dawn. Not able to contain my desire to see what Dawn is currently seeing any longer, I fired up the NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System app, and generated the following images: The top and bottom images are shown in natural lighting – it’s pretty dark out there! The second image highlights shadows, the third image was “floodlight” mode, or what I like to call “nearby supernova mode.” The bottom image shows a magnified view of what Ceres would look like from Dawn’s perspective on April 11, 2015 at 8:00 AM EST. Dawn will perform its … Continue reading

Cassini Returns to a Near Equatorial Orbit Around Saturn
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A dual view of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet’s icy satellites. This follows nearly two years during which the spacecraft’s orbits carried it high above the planet’s poles. Those paths limited the mission’s ability to encounter the moons, apart from regular flybys of Titan. Cassini’s orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the remainder of 2015, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon, Enceladus. The two views of Rhea were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart on Feb. 9, 2015, when Cassini was about 30,000 to 50,000 miles (50,000 to 80,000 kilometers) away from the moon. Cassini officially began its new set of equatorial orbits on March 16. The views show an expanded range of colors from those visible to human eyes in order to highlight subtle color variations across Rhea’s surface. In natural color, the moon’s surface … Continue reading

Orbits of Jupiter’s Moons
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I was putting the finishing touches on a lecture I was to give to the Warren Astronomical Society titled “Exploring the Solar System;” I wanted to put a couple images of the orbits of the moons of the planets. The image below shows the inner moons of Jupiter, in nice circular orbits – this is pretty much exactly what one would expect when it comes to moons, right? Now, I KNEW that Jupiter had 67 moons, and I KNEW that several of them were captured comets and asteroids… but I did not expect to see this when I zoomed out to show the orbits ALL of Jupiter’s moons. Jupiter is a MESS! And Saturn isn’t any better: I don’t know WHAT I was expecting, but this wasn’t it, and it should have been… I can’t remember seeing anything like this in any books of Astronomy that I have seen. These images were captured from the Windows app Celestia – I … Continue reading