[meteorite-list] NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best-Ever View of Dwarf Planet
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2015 09:33:01 -0800 (PST)
NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures Best-Ever View of Dwarf Planet
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 27, 2015
This animation of the dwarf planet Ceres was made by combining images
taken by the Dawn spacecraft on January 25, 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 (about 241 million kilometers). 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.
"Ceres is a 'planet' that you've probably never heard of," said Robert
Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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
"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
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:
To view the images taken by Hubble, visit:
More information about Dawn is available online at:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
elizabeth.landau at jpl.nasa.gov
Dwayne Brown / Felicia Chou
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-0257
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / felicia.chou at nasa.gov
Received on Tue 27 Jan 2015 12:33:01 PM PST