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Thread: Strange lights on dwarf planet Ceres have scientists perplexed

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    Strange lights on dwarf planet Ceres have scientists perplexed

    A dwarf planet is shining two bright lights at a NASA spacecraft right now, and our smartest scientists are unsure what they are.

    As bizarre as that sentence sounds, that's the situation with Ceres the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, officially designated as a dwarf planet (the same category as Pluto).

    NASA's Dawn spacecraft is approaching Ceres ahead of a March 6 rendezvous. The photo was taken February 19, from a distance of just under 29,000 miles, and shows two very shiny areas on the same basin on Ceres' surface.







    for more info check the link http://mashable.com/2015/02/25/stran...m-fb-main-link
    Last edited by Tribe, 26th February 2015 at 10:31.

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    this website has a very good report on this exploration of this planet http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest...mysteries.html



    Even as we discover more about Ceres, some mysteries only deepen. It certainly does not require sophisticated scientific insight to be captivated by the bright spots. What are they? At this point, the clearest answer is that the answer is unknown. One of the great rewards of exploring the cosmos is uncovering new questions, and this one captures the imagination of everyone who gazes at the pictures sent back from deep space.

    Other intriguing features newly visible on the unfamiliar landscape further assure us that there will be much more to see and to learn — and probably much more to puzzle over — when Dawn flies in closer and acquires new photographs and myriad other measurements. Over the course of this year, as the spacecraft spirals to lower and lower orbits, the view will continue to improve. In the lowest orbit, the pictures will display detail well over one hundred times finer than the RC2 pictures returned a few days ago (and shown below). Right now, however, Dawn is not getting closer to Ceres. On course and on schedule for entering orbit on March 6, Earth’s robotic ambassador is slowly separating from its destination.

    “Slowly” is the key. Dawn is in the vicinity of Ceres and is not leaving. The adventurer has traveled more than 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) since departing from Vesta in 2012, devoting most of the time to using its advanced ion propulsion system to reshape its orbit around the sun to match Ceres’ orbit. Now that their paths are so similar, the spacecraft is receding from the massive behemoth at the leisurely pace of about 35 mph (55 kilometers per hour), even as they race around the sun together at 38,700 mph (62,300 kilometers per hour). The probe is expertly flying an intricate course that would be the envy of any hotshot spaceship pilot. To reach its first observational orbit — a circular path from pole to pole and back at an altitude of 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) — Dawn is now taking advantage not only of ion propulsion but also the gravity of Ceres.

    On Feb. 23, the spacecraft was at its closest to Ceres yet, only 24,000 miles (less than 39,000 kilometers), or one-tenth of the separation between Earth and the moon. Momentum will carry it farther away for a while, so as it performs the complex cosmic choreography, Dawn will not come this close to its permanent partner again for six weeks. Well before then, it will be taken firmly and forever into Ceres’ gentle gravitational hold.

    The photographs Dawn takes during this approach phase serve several purposes. Besides fueling the fires of curiosity that burn within everyone who looks to the night sky in wonder or who longs to share in the discoveries of celestial secrets, the images are vital to engineers and scientists as they prepare for the next phase of exploration.
    Last edited by Tribe, 26th February 2015 at 10:37.

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    lift the veil x

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    NASA Spacecraft Nears Historic Dwarf Planet Arrival

    http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/dis...?News_ID=48862

    NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday, March 6.



    Ceres rotates in this sped-up movie comprised of images taken by NASA's Dawn mission during its approach to the dwarf planet. The images were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers). Dawn observed Ceres for a full rotation of the dwarf planet, which lasts about nine hours. The images have a resolution of 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) per pixel. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

    NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday, March 6.

    "Dawn is about to make history," said Robert Mase, project manager for the Dawn mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us."

    Recent images show numerous craters and unusual bright spots that scientists believe tell how Ceres, the first object discovered in our solar system's asteroid belt, formed and whether its surface is changing. As the spacecraft spirals into closer and closer orbits around the dwarf planet, researchers will be looking for signs that these strange features are changing, which would suggest current geological activity.

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18920

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18921

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18922

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18923

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18924

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia18925

    http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/pia19310
    "Studying Ceres allows us to do historical research in space, opening a window into the earliest chapter in the history of our solar system," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "Data returned from Dawn could contribute significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the solar system formed."

    Dawn began its final approach phase toward Ceres in December. The spacecraft has taken several optical navigation images and made two rotation characterizations, allowing Ceres to be observed through its full nine-hour rotation. Since Jan. 25, Dawn has been delivering the highest-resolution images of Ceres ever captured, and they will continue to improve in quality as the spacecraft approaches.

    Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres in 1801. As more such objects were found in the same region, they became known as asteroids, or minor planets. Ceres was initially classified as a planet and later called an asteroid. In recognition of its planet-like qualities, Ceres was designated a dwarf planet in 2006, along with Pluto and Eris.

    Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvests. Craters on Ceres will similarly be named for gods and goddesses of agriculture and vegetation from world mythology. Other features will be named for agricultural festivals.

    Launched in September 2007, Dawn explored the giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, capturing detailed images and data about that body. Both Vesta and Ceres orbit the sun between Mars and Jupiter, in the main asteroid belt. This two-stop tour of our solar system is made possible by Dawn's ion propulsion system, its three ion engines being much more efficient than chemical propulsion.

    "Both Vesta and Ceres were on their way to becoming planets, but their development was interrupted by the gravity of Jupiter," said Carol Raymond, deputy project scientist at JPL. "These two bodies are like fossils from the dawn of the solar system, and they shed light on its origins."

    Ceres and Vesta have several important differences. Ceres is the most massive body in the asteroid belt, with an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers). Ceres' surface covers about 38 percent of the area of the continental United States. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), and is the second most massive body in the belt. The asteroid formed earlier than Ceres and is a very dry body. Ceres, in contrast, is estimated to be 25 percent water by mass.

    "By studying Vesta and Ceres, we will gain a better understanding of the formation of our solar system, especially the terrestrial planets and most importantly the Earth," said Raymond. "These bodies are samples of the building blocks that have formed Venus, Earth and Mars. Vesta-like bodies are believed to have contributed heavily to the core of our planet, and Ceres-like bodies may have provided our water."

    "We would not be able to orbit and explore these two worlds without ion propulsion," Mase said. "Dawn capitalizes on this innovative technology to deliver big science on a small budget."

    In addition to the Dawn mission, NASA will launch in 2016 its Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. This mission will study a large asteroid in unprecedented detail and return samples to Earth.

    NASA also places a high priority on tracking and protecting Earth from asteroids. NASA's Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program at the agency's headquarters manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. NASA is pursuing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which will identify, redirect and send astronauts to explore an asteroid. Among its many exploration goals, the mission could demonstrate basic planetary defense techniques for asteroid deflection.

    Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft.

    The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

    http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission
    For more information about Dawn, visit:

    http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov>/b>
    For more information on OSIRIS-REx and ARM visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov>/b>

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