Following Our Space Probes: “Dawn” Approaches Ceres

The NASA spacecraft, “Dawn”, will enter first orbit around the asteroid/dwarf planet Ceres next week. Cool!

This week images were taken to, among other things, figure out exactly how Ceres rotates. I hadn’t thought about it, but if you want to survey a planetoid you want to use a polar orbit—which requires knowing where the darn poles are. Duh! And that isn’t easy to tell until you get close enough.

Once in orbit, Dawn will image the whole surface of Ceres in a range of frequencies. From the recent observation of unexplained bright patches, as well as earlier hints of water vapor, the team will be looking for evidence of a subsurface ocean. That would be kind of interesting.

By the way, NASA has released a 3D printable model of Vesta, mapped by the Dawn mission on its way to Ceres, and also a 3D printable model of the spacecraft itself.

There is also a 3D model for the “New Horizons” spacecraft closing in on Pluto, and a bunch of other models, all at: http://nasa3d.arc.nasa.gov/models/printable

Our other friends at ESA has posted an interesting discussion of the recent flyby, which was trickier than I realized. “Doing science during a close flyby like this is not easy,”

Meanwhile, at NASA posted a nice piece about the current activities of the New Horizons mission team as the spacecraft closes on Pluto.  This also sketches the geological studies that are planned.  (An earlier post explained the atmospheric studies.)

 

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