Two Bright Spots on Dwarf Planet Ceres Puzzle Scientists

The brightest of the two spots was first detected in the images taken by the spacecraft on January 13, 2015, from a distance of 383,000 km.

The latest images reveal that the spot is actually two bright spots, lying next to each other in the same crater basin.

“Ceres’ bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin,” said Dawn mission scientist Dr Chris Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles.

“This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations.”

More & Source: http://www.sci-news.com/space/science-two-bright-spots-dwarf-planet-ceres-02540.html

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best-Ever View of Dwarf Planet

ESA - Dawn Mission patch.

January 27, 2015

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.

“We know so little about our vast solar system, but thanks to economical missions like Dawn, those mysteries are being solved,” said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

At 43 pixels wide, the new images are more than 30 percent higher in resolution than those taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004 at a distance of over 150 million miles. The resolution is higher because Dawn is traveling through the solar system to Ceres, while Hubble remains fixed in Earth orbit. The new Dawn images come on the heels of initial navigation images taken Jan. 13 that reveal a white spot on the dwarf planet and the suggestion of craters. Hubble images also had glimpsed a white spot on the dwarf planet, but its nature is still unknown.

Image above: This animation of the dwarf planet Ceres was made by combining images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Jan. 25. The spacecraft’s framing camera took these images, at a distance of about 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres, and they represent the highest-resolution views to date of the dwarf planet. Image Credit: NASA/JPL.

“Ceres is a ‘planet’ that you’ve probably never heard of,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “We’re excited to learn all about it with Dawn and share our discoveries with the world.”

As the spacecraft gets closer to Ceres, its camera will return even better images. On March 6, Dawn will enter into orbit around Ceres to capture detailed images and measure variations in light reflected from Ceres, which should reveal the planet’s surface composition.

“We are already seeing areas and details on Ceres popping out that had not been seen before. For instance, there are several dark features in the southern hemisphere that might be craters within a region that is darker overall,” said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission at JPL. “Data from this mission will revolutionize our understanding of this unique body. Ceres is showing us tantalizing features that are whetting our appetite for the detailed exploration to come.”

Ceres, the largest body between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, has a diameter of about 590 miles (950 kilometers). Some scientists believe the dwarf planet harbored a subsurface ocean in the past and liquid water may still be lurking under its icy mantle.

Originally described as a planet, Ceres was later categorized as an asteroid, and then reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. The mysterious world was discovered in 1801 by astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, who named the object for the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.

Image above: Zoomed out – PIA19173 Ceres appears sharper than ever at 43 pixels across, a higher resolution than images of Ceres taken by the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004. Image Credit: NASA/JPL.

“You may not realize that the word ‘cereal’ comes from the name Ceres. Perhaps you already connected with the dwarf planet at breakfast today,“ said JPL’s Marc Rayman, Mission Director and Chief Engineer of the Dawn mission.

Powered by a uniquely capable ion propulsion system, Dawn also orbited and explored Vesta, the second most massive body in the asteroid belt. From 2011 to 2012, Dawn returned more than 30,000 images, 18 million light measurements and other scientific data about the impressive large asteroid. Vesta has a diameter of about 326 miles (525 kilometers).

"With the help of Dawn and other missions, we are continually adding to our understanding of how the solar system began and how the planets were formed,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dawn’s mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig.

The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, was built by Selex ES, and is managed by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute of Tucson, Arizona.

The new Dawn images are available online at: http://go.nasa.gov/1wyp0LA

To view the images taken by Hubble, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/1Ju41mf

More information about Dawn is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown / Felicia Chou.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch
Full article

Dawn Spies New Features On Ceres

You might think we’ve thoroughly explored the solar system between the Sun and Pluto, but there is still much terrain we have yet to see. The dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and we have almost no idea what it looks like.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is on its way to Ceres right now, and it just sent back photos that rival our best images of Ceres, which were snapped by Hubble in 2003 and 2004. Though the resolution is about 80 percent of Hubble’s images, the new photos confirm some of the features that Hubble spotted – and reveal a few new ones.

New Features

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI. Image processed by David O’Brien, PSI.

Arrows point to fingers extending from the dark structures on Ceres’ surface.

From a distance of 283,000 miles (or about the distance between the Earth and the Moon), Dawn confirmed the presence of a bright spot in Ceres’ northern hemisphere, as well as two large, darker structures in the southern hemisphere. The new images also reveal extensions on the northern edges of these dark structures, suggesting that the two structures may actually be one large continuous feature that stretches across much of the southern hemisphere.

The dark structure could be a chain of craters or the result of tectonic movements. Or it could be just a dark patch of dirt; we won’t know until Dawn gets closer.

“If it is tectonic, it should provide insight into the interior processes of this small planet,” Mark Sykes, CEO of the Planetary Science Institute and a co-investigator on the mission, said in a press release. “Models of Ceres’ interior suggest there could be subsurface oceans and an outer ice-rich layer.”

Researchers are interested in Ceres, because they think it’s an embryonic planet (or “protoplanet”) whose development was disrupted by Jupiter’s gravity. As a result, Ceres is like a time capsule that may be able to tell us how planets form and what conditions were like in the solar system while the planets were developing. Because of the liquid ocean that may be sloshing around in its interior, Ceres is also of interest to astrobiologists, who think there’s some chance that the planetoid could have supported microbial life at some point.

On January 26, Dawn will turn her cameras on again, and the images she takes will surpass Hubble’s resolution. After arriving in March, Dawn will come within 230 miles of Ceres, mapping the surface of this alien world in unprecedented detail.


                                     Settling in at Ceres

This animated sequence of images (which I re-animated slightly from NASA’s at the link ~ JN) from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows northern terrain on the sunlit side of dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn took these images on April 14 and 15 from a vantage point 14,000 miles (22,000 kilometers) above Ceres’ northern hemisphere. The spacecraft was settling into its first circular orbit, called RC3 (for “rotation characterization 3”), which it will begin on April 23.

The bright feature called “spot 5” by the Dawn science team – actually two bright spots close together – rotates into view at right in the last few frames.

Dawn has now finished delivering the images that have helped mission planners maneuver the spacecraft to its first science orbit and prepare for subsequent observations.

Image scale on Ceres is about 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers) per pixel, compared to 1.9 miles (3.1 kilometers) per pixel in the optical navigation images taken on April 10 (see PIA19317). The sun-Ceres-spacecraft angle, or phase angle is 91 degrees here, compared to 131 degrees in the previous sequence.

A processed still image from this sequence is also available.

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of acknowledgements, visit http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission


April 20, 2015          Editor: Tony Greicius 

Original article found here.          


Most people don’t realize our Solar System contains a dwarf planet the size of Texas. It does and its called Ceres. NASA’s spacecraft, Dawn is scheduled to arrive at it on March 6th.

Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is known to contain water. We as humans have yet to get close enough to photograph the planet’s surface and this year will be the first time we set high-res eyes on the this potentially life-inhabiting mini-planet. 

Mark your calendar because this shit is fascinating. 

Source 1

Source 2

Dawn Spacecraft Begins Approach to Dwarf Planet Ceres

NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

December 30, 2014

Crazy Engineering: Ion Propulsion and the Dawn Mission
Video above: Ion propulsion isn’t something found only in science fiction. Ion engines are a real deal and drive NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, en route to dwarf planet Ceres. Big things do come in small packages. Video Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

- Dawn has entered its approach phase toward Ceres
- The spacecraft will arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has entered an approach phase in which it will continue to close in on Ceres, a Texas-sized dwarf planet never before visited by a spacecraft. Dawn launched in 2007 and is scheduled to enter Ceres orbit in March 2015.

Dawn recently emerged from solar conjunction, in which the spacecraft is on the opposite side of the sun, limiting communication with antennas on Earth. Now that Dawn can reliably communicate with Earth again, mission controllers have programmed the maneuvers necessary for the next stage of the rendezvous, which they label the Ceres approach phase. Dawn is currently 400,000 miles (640,000 kilometers) from Ceres, approaching it at around 450 miles per hour (725 kilometers per hour).

The spacecraft’s arrival at Ceres will mark the first time that a spacecraft has ever orbited two solar system targets. Dawn previously explored the protoplanet Vesta for 14 months, from 2011 to 2012, capturing detailed images and data about that body.

“Ceres is almost a complete mystery to us,” said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Ceres, unlike Vesta, has no meteorites linked to it to help reveal its secrets. All we can predict with confidence is that we will be surprised.”

The two planetary bodies are thought to be different in a few important ways. Ceres may have formed later than Vesta, and with a cooler interior. Current evidence suggests that Vesta only retained a small amount of water because it formed earlier, when radioactive material was more abundant, which would have produced more heat. Ceres, in contrast, has a thick ice mantle and may even have an ocean beneath its icy crust.

Ceres, with an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers), is also the largest body in the asteroid belt, the strip of solar system real estate between Mars and Jupiter. By comparison, Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), and is the second most massive body in the belt.

Image above: This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The spacecraft uses ion propulsion to traverse space far more efficiently than if it used chemical propulsion. In an ion propulsion engine, an electrical charge is applied to xenon gas, and charged metal grids accelerate the xenon particles out of the thruster. These particles push back on the thruster as they exit, creating a reaction force that propels the spacecraft. Dawn has now completed five years of accumulated thrust time, far more than any other spacecraft.

“Orbiting both Vesta and Ceres would be truly impossible with conventional propulsion. Thanks to ion propulsion, we’re about to make history as the first spaceship ever to orbit two unexplored alien worlds,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The next couple of months promise continually improving views of Ceres, prior to Dawn’s arrival. By the end of January, the spacecraft’s images and other data will be the best ever taken of the dwarf planet.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.

More information about Dawn: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch
Full article

Photo of Ceres, the dwarf planet whose orbit lies between those of Jupiter and Mars, taken by the Dawn spacecraft. Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt with a diameter of almost 600 miles. Dawn is expected to send better pictures as it flies closer to Ceres later this month. Pic from NASA website.

Latest from Dawn 4/16/2015

Ceres as seen by the Dawn spacecraft from a distance of 21,000 miles. We’re looking down at the dwarf planet’s north pole in this view.


From Astronomy Picture Of The Day; November 28, 2011:

A Landslide on Asteroid Vesta

Asteroid Vesta is home to some of the most impressive cliffs in the Solar System. Pictured above near the image center is a very deep cliff running about 20 kilometers from top to bottom. The image was taken by the robotic Dawn spacecraft that began orbiting the 500-kilometer space rock earlier this year. The topography of the scarp and its surroundings indicates that huge landslides may have occurred down this slope. The scarp’s origin remains unknown, but parts of the cliff face itself must be quite old as several craters have appeared in it since it was created. Dawn has now finished up its high altitude mapping survey and will spiral down to a lower altitude orbit to better explore the asteroid’s gravitational field. During 2012, Dawn is scheduled to blast away from Vesta and begin a long journey to the only asteroid belt object known to be larger: Ceres.

Dawn’s Ceres Color Map Reveals Surface Diversity

This map-projected view of Ceres was created from images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft during its initial approach to the dwarf planet, prior to being captured into orbit in March 2015. 

I’m sure we’re all waiting anxiously for some close-ups
of the Great White Spots. ~ JN Ph7.5

Read the full article here.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets more surface images of Vesta

The Dawn spacecraft continues to travel around the large asteroid Vesta, getting better and better pictures of the surface from its low altitude orbit and yes, it does in fact look like a giant lump of rock. Scientists are hoping to get some sort of data from Vesta that might fill in our picture of the days of the early solar system.

Keep reading