NASA's Dawn Probe Beams Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres Back to Earth
NASA's Dawn Probe Beams Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres Back to Earth
Dawn Reveals Dramatic New Views of Occator Crater
05 July, 2018, 17:21
Automatic interplanetary station was recently discovered on Ceres, the existence of seasonal processes on the planet and confirm its geological activity. However, the recent pictures taken by NASA's spacecraft have the potential to shed more light on Ceres' fascinating nature and history.
Last month, NASA's Dawn mission promised us unprecedented close-ups of the dwarf planet Ceres - the largest object in the asteroid belt stretching between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. During more than a decade in space, Dawn's ion engines have set records for total firing time of 5.87 years and total effective velocity change by a spacecraft of 25,700 miles per hour (41,360 kph).Because of the nature of orbital motion, that is not Dawn's actual velocity. In June, it reached its lowest orbit yet, skimming the surface from just 22 miles (35 kilometres) up.
Closest Spacecraft OrbitDawn'snew orbit is also one of the closest shaves of any NASA orbiter. The photographs revealed unusual bright spots on the surface, which drew immediate attention from the scientific community.
During the flyby, NASA's spacecraft focused on a site of bright surface deposits in the Occator Crater and the neighbouring region of Vinalia Faculae.
Cerealia Facula is now believed to be the largest deposit of sodium carbonate on Ceres, right in the centre of Occator Crater.
"Acquiring these spectacular pictures has been one of the greatest challenges in Dawn's extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition, and the results are better than we had ever hoped", said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. They could also determine if the carbonates found on Ceres came from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of water rich in minerals or from a deeper source of water that moved upwards and seeped through cracks.
Dawn was instructed to fire its ion engine-for what could be the last time-last week. They could appear as the result of shock-heating substances that were previously beneath the surface and appear as a result of crystallization and salt saturated water. "Don is like a master artist, who is adding rich details to the beauty of the other world in his close picture of Ceres".
This second extended Dawn mission around Ceres might finally yield an answer to this question, as well as unravel the mystery of what goes on under its surface (via gravity measurements), and provide a detailed analysis of the dwarf planet's composition (thanks to low-altitude observations with Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector, and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer).
The spacecraft will remain in orbit around Ceres when it runs out of fuel, but Dawn will end its mission because it will no longer able to point its solar arrays toward the sun, or aim its antenna toward Earth. That technology has allowed Dawn to become the first mission to orbit two solar system destinations outside of the Earth-Moon system - first Vesta and then Ceres - and to do groundbreaking science at these two bodies.
The other Dawn snapshot released by NASA on July 2 captures Cerealia Facula as it's never been seen before.
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