In March of 2015, NASA’s Dawn mission arrived around Ceres, a protoplanet that is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt. Along with Vesta, the Dawn mission seeks to characterize the conditions and processes of the early Solar System by studying some of its oldest objects. One thing Dawn has determined since its arrival is that water-bearing minerals are widespread on Ceres, an indication that the protoplanet once had a global ocean.
The Dawn probe continues to excite and amaze! Since it achieved orbit around Ceres in March of 2015, it has been sending back an impressive stream of data and images on the protoplanet. In addition to capturing pictures of the mysterious “bright spots” on Ceres’ surface, it has also revealed evidence of cryovolcanism and the possibility of an interior ocean that could even support life.
Dwarf planet Ceres may be hundreds of millions of miles from Jupiter, and even farther from Saturn, but the tremendous influence of gravity from these gas giants has an appreciable effect on Ceres' orientation. In a new study, researchers from NASA's Dawn mission calculate that the axial tilt of Ceres -- the angle at which it spins as it journeys around the sun -- varies widely over the course of about 24,500 years. Astronomers consider this to be a surprisingly short period of time for such dramatic deviations.
The bright regions on the dwarf planet Ceres have been some of the most talked about features in planetary science in recent years. While data from the Dawn spacecraft has shown these bright areas are salt deposits (alas, not lights of an alien city), the question remained of how these salts reached the surface.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been poking around Ceres since it first established orbit in March of 2015. In that time, the mission has sent back a steam of images of the minor planet, and with a level of resolution that was previously impossible. Because of this, a lot of interesting revelations have been made about Ceres’ composition and surface features (like its many “bright spots“).
Sometimes, I think scientists are just that little bit too modest. A new paper in Science has a humdinger of a title: “Localized aliphatic organic material on the surface of Ceres”. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue and may not even seem that important. But what the researchers have discovered is a huge deal. They’ve found organic compounds – the kind of molecules from which life on Earth originated – on the surface of Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid.
At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts -- not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
There’s one thing that could mean the end the Dawn mission: if the hydrazine fuel for its maneuvering thruster system runs out. Now, engineers for the Dawn mission have figured out a way to save on this fuel while still sending Dawn to a new science orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. They are effectively extending the mission while expanding on the science Dawn can do.
The arrival of NASA’s Dawn mission at the huge asteroid “1 Ceres” in early 2015 has turned out to have been well worth waiting for. This dwarf planet is the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and was the first to be discovered. But, until recently, we have only had information from ground and space-based telescopes, which have given us tantalising glimpses of a dark, possibly water-rich object.
The brightest area on Ceres, located in the mysterious Occator Crater, has the highest concentration of carbonate minerals ever seen outside Earth, according to a new study from scientists on NASA's Dawn mission. The study, published online in the journal Nature, is one of two new papers about the makeup of Ceres.
Observations made using the HARPS spectrograph at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile have revealed unexpected changes in the bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. Although Ceres appears as little more than a point of light from the Earth, very careful study of its light shows not only the changes expected as Ceres rotates, but also that the spots brighten during the day and also show other variations. These observations suggest that the material of the spots is volatile and evaporates in the warm glow of sunlight.
One year ago, on March 6, 2015, NASA's Dawn spacecraft slid gently into orbit around Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Since then, the spacecraft has delivered a wealth of images and other data that open an exciting new window to the previously unexplored dwarf planet.
It has been a busy year for Solar System exploration – and particularly our galactic neighbourhood’s small icy bodies. Comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt Objects and planetary satellites have all been in the news – from stunning images of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the start of the year, to the recent close-up of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, via Ceres and Pluto.
When Guiseppe Piazzi reported his observations of a minor planet in 1801, he originally thought it might be a comet. But follow-up observations by fellow astronomers suggested that Ceres was actually an asteroid. So it’s somewhat ironic that the latest results from NASA’s Dawn mission suggest this asteroid is confusingly similar to a comet.