Saturday, March 07, 2015

Dawn Arrives at Ceres

Mission controllers have confirmed that the planetary exploration spacecraft Dawn has entered orbit around the largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres. 

Dawn, over the next few months, will spiral down to within 233 miles of Ceres surface.   

Ceres contains water. Though the chances are that most of it is probably frozen. What Dawn will be looking for under  more than 43 million cubic miles of frozen  is evidence of subsurface liquid ocean on Ceres.  Last year the Herschel space telescope detected wisps of water vapor around Ceres, which suggested possible liquid water but Dawn hasn’t seen any.   Ceres has quite a lot going for it being a harbor  of life.  Unlike  the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Ceres isn’t deep into a planet’s strong magnetic field. These fields generates  radiation that is extremely harmful to any life forms plus Ceres is much closer to the sun meaning it is much much warmer. Ceres could be the most hospitable place in the solar system second only to Earth depending on what Dawn finds.

Dawn has its work cut out for it. It is still  37,000 miles from the surface and in the dark side shadow hidden behind Ceres opposite the sun. It won’t be sending back any pictures or data until late April, when it reemerges from Ceres’s dark side.

Complete Wired article HERE

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