News

NASA’s Dawn mission gears up for close look at Ceres

20 October 2017 Stephen Clark

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will remain at Ceres for the rest of its mission, heading closer to the asteroid belt’s largest resident than ever before to obtain new measurements of ice, salts and a tenuous intermittent atmosphere detected around the dwarf planet, the space agency announced Thursday.

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Scientists celebrate 10th anniversary of Dawn mission’s launch

27 September 2017 Stephen Clark

In the ten years since its launch from Cape Canaveral, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has orbited the two largest worlds in the asteroid belt and overcome defective components that threatened to derail the mission on its 4 billion-mile voyage, discovering unexpectedly rich geologic tapestries suggesting both destinations have a watery past.

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Hubble spots moon around third largest dwarf planet

18 May 2017 Astronomy Now

The combined power of three space observatories, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, has helped astronomers uncover a moon orbiting the third largest dwarf planet, catalogued as 2007 OR10. The pair resides in the frigid outskirts of our solar system called the Kuiper Belt, a realm of icy debris left over from our solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.

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Movie shows Ceres at opposition from Sun

17 May 2017 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully observed Ceres at opposition on April 29, taking images from a position exactly between the Sun and Ceres’ surface. Mission specialists had carefully maneuvered Dawn into a special orbit so that the spacecraft could view Occator Crater, which contains the brightest area of Ceres, from this new perspective.

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Could there be life in Pluto’s ocean?

4 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto is thought to possess a subsurface ocean, which is not so much a sign of water as it is a tremendous clue that other dwarf planets in deep space also may contain similarly exotic oceans, naturally leading to the question of life, said one co-investigator with NASA’s New Horizon.

Picture This

New views of dwarf planet Ceres as Dawn moves higher

19 November 2016 Astronomy Now

The brightest area on Ceres stands out amid shadowy, cratered terrain in a dramatic new view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, taken as it looked off to the side of the dwarf planet. Dawn snapped this image from about 920 miles (1,480 kilometres) above Ceres in its fifth science orbit, in which the angle of the Sun was different from that in previous orbits.

Observing

How to find Ceres, the nearest and brightest dwarf planet at its best

23 October 2016 Ade Ashford

Ceres, the largest minor planet inside the orbit of Neptune, passed closest to Earth on the evening of 22 October — the night of the last quarter Moon. With the lunar crescent now confined to the morning sky, grab your binoculars or telescope, print out some star charts from our online guide and track down the brightest of the dwarf planets while at its best.

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Shedding light on Pluto’s glaciers

20 September 2016 Astronomy Now

What is the origin of the large heart-shaped nitrogen glacier on Pluto revealed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2015? Two French researchers show that Pluto’s peculiar insolation and atmosphere favour nitrogen condensation near the equator, in the lower altitude regions, leading to an accumulation of ice at the bottom of Sputnik Planum, a vast topographic basin.