Dawn Spacecraft’s Last Hurrah at Ceres

Speaking of “one final swoop”, the NASA Dawn spacecraft is nearing the end of its lifetime as well, and is descending to its final orbit, only 380 km above the surface. It will circle there until it runs out of fuel or otherwise breaks down, probably next summer (around June 2016). Dawn will not crash into the surface (not soon, anyway), but it will never be able to leave the low orbit.

When it reaches this last orbit in a couple of weeks it will take the highest resolution images yet, with a resolution of something like 35 meters per pixel.

For comparison, this orbit is a bit closer than Landsat and other Earth Observing satellites, and Google Earth imagery is about 15m per pixel. This will be very good data, indeed.

This slow, methodical, quiet ending seems somehow appropriate for Dawn. This awesome little craft has been in space since 2007, and first visited Vesta in 2011, and then cranked up the ion drive and cruised out to Ceres this year.


This mosaic shows Ceres’ Occator crater and surrounding terrain from an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), as seen by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Occator is about 60 miles (90 kilometers) across and 2 miles (4 kilometers) deep. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


Space Saturday

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