Dawn over Ceres

On Friday afternoon [GMT], ahead of Ireland cricketers’ epic encounter with Zimbabwe, Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft became the first man-made object to go into orbit around a dwarf planet – Ceres, at 950km across, the largest object in the main asteroid belt. [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA] From the associated text The slim crescent of Ceres smiles back as the dwarf planet awaits the arrival of an emissary from Earth. This image was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on March 1, 2015, just a few … Read more

“Thrust is engaged, and we are now climbing away from Vesta atop a blue-green pillar of xenon ions”

Having arrived at the 530km-wide giant asteroid Vesta in July 2011, in May this year Nasa’s Dawn Mission scientists published some of their findings.  Now Dawn’s ready to head out on the next leg of its journey – Destination [the even larger protoplanet (dwarf planet)] Ceres, ETA 2015. From the JPL press release “Thrust is engaged, and we are now climbing away from Vesta atop a blue-green pillar of xenon ions,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, … Read more

“Vesta is special”

Having arrived at the 530km-wide giant asteroid Vesta in July last year, Nasa’s Dawn Mission scientists have published some of their findings in Science magazine.  As the BBC’s spaceman, Jonathan Amos, notes They confirm that Vesta has a layered interior with a metal-rich core, just as Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury do. Using information about the shape of the asteroid and its gravity field, scientists can even say something about the likely size of this core. The Dawn team calculates … Read more

Of proto- [and exo-] planets. And falling satellites…

Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft remains in orbit around the 530km-wide proto-planet Vesta – the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt.  And they’ve released this cool video constructed from the images they’ve obtained so far. Via JPLnews Here’s an image of the south pole of Vesta from a distance of about 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers). [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA] And speaking of exo-planets, scientists using the orbiting Kepler observatory have identifed the first circumbinary planet, the first planet known to definitively orbit two … Read more

Vesta’s dark side [and possibly a colourful one]

As the BBC spaceman, Jonathon Amos, notes Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft has taken a close look at the 530 km wide giant asteroid Vesta’s northern hemisphere– to add to all those earlier images.  This image was taken on 23 July, at a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,200 kilometers) away from the proto planet Vesta.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.   And in a short while, 1700 UT [6pm BST], Nasa will be holding a press conference to present the latest findings.  Which may include some colour … Read more

Vesta: “arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the Solar System”

With Dawn now safely in orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta, Nasa have released the first close-up image of the ancient protoplanet. [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA] From the accompanying text July 18, 2011 – PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 17, 2011. It was taken from a distance of about 9,500 miles (15,000 kilometers) away from the protoplanet Vesta. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 0.88 miles (1.4 kilometers). And from the … Read more

Dawn: Up close and personal with Vesta

As I may have mentioned, early tomorrow morning, 9am [BST] 16 July, Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft is expected to be captured into orbit by the 530km-wide giant asteroid Vesta.  They won’t know for sure until a scheduled communications pass at 8.30am [BST] on Sunday 17 July.  Here’s the latest image of Vesta taken by Dawn on 9 July at a distance of about 26,000 miles (41,000 km).    NASA’s Dawn spacecraft obtained this image with its framing camera on July 9, … Read more

Dawn’s final approach

Next weekend (on 16 July), barring any further unforeseen problems, Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta and begin its year-long observation of the 530km wide proto-planet. [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA] From the JPL press release (23 June) After Dawn enters Vesta’s orbit, engineers will need a few days to determine the exact time of capture. Unlike other missions where a dramatic, nail-biting propulsive burn results in orbit insertion around a planet, Dawn has been using its placid ion propulsion … Read more