NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has reached its new observing position 4400 kilometers above the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. On 3 June, the spacecraft entered its new orbit, where it will spend the rest of the month. The spacecraft will conduct intensive observations of Ceres, completing orbits of about three days each.
It was an arrival and a farewell at the same time: On 6 March of this year, when NASA’s Dawn space probe arrived at Ceres, the spherical dwarf planet initially disappeared into the darkness. Now, Ceres has come into view again. Photos from mid-April afford a first glimpse of the north pole of the dwarf planet.
The surface composition of dwarf planet Ceres is far more diverse than can be discerned by the naked eye. The body with a diameter of approximately 950 kilometers must therefore have seen an eventful past.
The signal was received by the ground station at 14.36 hours Central European Time: Dawn was captured by the gravitational field of the dwarf planet Ceres and thus became the first spacecraft in history to enter into orbit around two different planetary bodies in succession.
New images of dwarf planet Ceres show the full range of different crater shapes that can be found on its surface: from shallow, flattish ones to those with impressive central mountains in the middle.
Only about 55,000 kilometers still separate NASA's Dawn spacecraft from dwarf planet Ceres. Recent images obtained on 12 February 2015 from a distance of approximately 80000 kilometers now for the first time display the one side of the dwarf planet that Dawn had not before imaged.
Extensive craters and a striking bright spot can be seen on current images from NASA’s Dawn space probe, which is enroute to dwarf planet Ceres and has now photographed its destination from a distance of 237000 kilometers. The images that were taken on 25 January 2015 provide a spatial resolution of about 22 kilometers per pixel. For the first time, this value exceeds that of earlier images obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope.
The mission of NASA's Dawn spacecraft to the asteroid belt has entered into its second phase: after a more than year-long stay at the asteroid Vesta and an onward journey through space lasting almost two and a half years, Dawn is now approaching the dwarf planet Ceres. Current images already reach an image contrast surpassing all previously known images of Ceres and show first surface features such as craters. The camera system on board was developed under the lead of the MPS.
The mission of NASA's Dawn spacecraft to the asteroid belt has entered into its second phase: after a more than year-long stay at the asteroid Vesta and an onward journey through space lasting almost two and a half years, Dawn is now quickly approaching the dwarf planet Ceres. Current images obtained by Dawn's onboard Framing Cameras already reach an image contrast surpassing all previously known images of Ceres and show first surface features such as craters.
More than 413 million kilometers away from the warmth of the Sun, deep within the asteroid belt, a peculiar body travels along its orbit: Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system. In the spring of 2015, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will reach this mysterious world. Now, from a distance of approximately 1.2 million kilometers, the Dawn Framing Camera has fixed its gaze at the mission's distant target.
Vesta's rocky history
Rocks are silent storytellers: because each mineral is created only under certain conditions, they provide insight into the evolution of the body on which they are found. Scientists from the MPS have now begun to tell such a story from the enigmatic dark material discovered on the protoplanet Vesta. Using data from the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the researchers have succeeded for the first time in identifying a mineral component of this material: serpentine.
Some beauty is revealed only at a second glance. Such a case is the giant asteroid Vesta, which was the object of scrutiny by the Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2012. Scientists at the MPS have now re-analysed the images of this giant asteroid obtained by Dawn’s framing camera. The images reveal in detail not only geological structures that are invisible to the naked eye, but also landscapes of incomparable beauty.
The protoplanet Vesta has been witness to an eventful past: images taken by the framing camera onboard NASA's space probe Dawn show two enormous craters in the southern hemisphere. Scientists under the lead of the MPS have shown that impacting small asteroids delivered carbonaceous material to the protoplanet. In the early days of our solar system, similar events may have provided the inner planets with carbon, an essential building block for organic molecules.
Approximately one year after arriving at the asteroid Vesta, NASA's spacecraft Dawn is now preparing for departure. The probe is scheduled to leave its orbit around Vesta on Wednesday, September 5th (CEST); the onboard camera system, that was developed and built under the lead of the MPS, took its last snapshot of the asteroid on August 26th at 5.21 pm (CEST) from a distance of 6,000 kilometers.
The cameras on board NASA’s space probe Dawn are helping to disclose the secrets of the asteroid Vesta. New color images confirm that Vesta is a relict from an early phase of our solar system. The surprisingly heterogeneous body is more similar to a planet than to a primitive asteroid. In addition, new studies prove that most of the HED-meteorites, a special class of meteorites, are fragments of Vesta. Scientists from the MPS describe their current results in tomorrow’s issue of Science Magazine.
Vesta in false-colors
Scientists at the MPS have compiled the first false-color map of asteroid Vesta’s surface using high resolution images returned by the framing camera on board NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Dawn began its yearlong orbital mapping mission of Vesta in July. The false-color images were obtained by using the different filters of the framing camera. In the coming months, these images will help to understand Vesta's mineralogical composition and surface structure. Observations made so far show a distinct color variation between the northern and southern hemisphere of Vesta and also certain impact craters that show remarkable diversity.
While NASA's space probe Dawn is continuing its approach towards Vesta, the camera system on board is beginning to show the giant asteroid in more and more detail. The newest pictures taken on June 1st and processed by researchers at the MPS in Germany already hint at the huge crater on Vesta's southern hemisphere that is known from earlier observations. In addition, the new images show a dark feature close to the asteroids's equator.
After a flight time of three and a half years, the framing cameras on board NASA's space probe Dawn have shot their first picture of the asteroid Vesta. The protoplanet appears as a bright, round spot in front of a dark background of stars. In this early approach phase the image that was taken from a distance of 1,2 million kilometers mainly serves navigational purposes.
Only less than three months and approximately 1.2 million kilometers still separate NASA’s space probe Dawn from its first destination: the asteroid Vesta that circles the Sun within the so-called asteroid belt beyond the orbit of Mars. The mission has now reached its official approach phase. The camera operations are run by scientists and engineers from the MPS.
After a hibernation period of approximately six months, the framing cameras on board NASA’s space probe Dawn have again ventured a look into the stars. The tests, which were performed by scientists from the MPS, are part of the preparations for Dawn’s arrival at the asteroid Vesta at the end of July. “The camera system is working flawlessly. The dry run was a complete success,” says Dr. Andreas Nathues, Framing Camera Lead Investigator.
A look into Vesta's interior
Researchers from the University of North Dakota and from the MPS have discovered a new kind of asteroid. The mineralogical composition of 1999 TA10 suggests that unlike many other asteroids it did not originate from the outer rocky crust of its parent asteroid Vesta, but from deeper layers. Until now, no asteroid with this composition was known. With the help of this new discovery it is now possible to determine the thickness of Vesta’s crust and study its internal structure.
A rehearsal in space
After its 17 month long journey through space NASA’s mission DAWN is expecting a change of pace: On Wednesday, February 18th, the probe will swing-by Mars in order to pick up speed and correct its course. For the cameras aboard DAWN that were build under the leadership of the MPS this is the first and last rehearsal. Until the space probe reaches its first scientific goal, the asteroid Vesta, in 2011 there will be no comparable opportunity to test the instruments.