|Spacecraft Mission Pages|
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Where is the Dawn Spacecraft right now?
The app above shows the position of the Dawn Spacecraft right now. You can also wind the animation backwards in time to watch its launch and its flyby of Mars and its 15 month visit to the asteroid Vesta.
The animation can be stopped at any time to show the position of Dawn and also the position of planets and the asteroids that it visited at any moment in its journey.
For browsers that don't support flash, we provide a video animation of the complete flightpath.
For an in-depth report on Dawn and its mission at Ceres, and the quest to find out what the bright spots are visit the JPL Site.
Where is Dawn?
Dawn has been in orbit around Ceres since March 6 2015. Already there is lots of speculation about glimpses of interesting activity on the dwarf planet including the nature of the bright spots clearly visible in the crater (above) which appear to be salt deposits which have been revealed relatively recently (in geological terms), and may be active.
Dec 2017: Latest NASA Findings on Ceres
Cyrovolcano on Ceres
Dawn Mission talk (14th July, 2016)
This very interesting and informative lecture on the Dawn mission with plenty of humour. It's long so you might want to dip into various sections - (timings approximate):
0:02 The solar system - history, formation.. etc.
0:13 Why Ceres and Vesta are different from most asteriods
0:17 Ceres Overview
0:23 Vesta Overview
0:30 The Dawn Mission Overview
0:35 Ion Propulsion
0:39 Dawn Spacecraft
0:43 Spaceflight - and the wonder of it
0:51 Dawns trajectory
0:55 Animation of trajectory
0:58 Q & A: How Jupiter affected the formation of the solar system?
1:00 Q & A: How did Dawn navigate Ceres without prior knowledge of the gravitational field?
1:02 Q & A: Are there internal geological processes on Ceres?
1:05 Q & A: Why does Dawn have three Ion Drives?
1:07 Q & A: Why does Dawn use solar panels and not radioactive thermal batteries?
1:10 Q & A: How do we know meteorites came from the asteroid Vesta?
1:12 Q & A: Why is one side of Vesta more cratered than the other?
1:13 Q & A: What's it like to experience an Ion drive up close?
1:16 Q & A: How long did it take to manufacture the Ion drive?
1:17 Q & A: Why use Zenon as fuel?
1:19 Q & A: Mission end - what will the spacecraft do now?
1:23 Q & A: What was the biggest problem experienced by the spacecraft? (Reaction wheels)
1:28 Q & A: Why do the gyroscopes fail quite often?
1:32 Q & A: What's the history of Ion propulsion?
1:35 Q & A: Why are there asteroids (trojans) in Jupiters Orbit?
1:37 Q & A: Will we ever send a spacecraft to refuel Dawn?
1:39 Q & A: Was there a plan to visit Pallas?
1:41 Q & A: What do we know about the body that smashed Vesta in the past?
July 2016: Dawn Completes its Primary Mission
On June 30, just in time for the global celebration known as Asteroid Day, NASA's Dawn spacecraft completes its primary mission. The mission exceeded all expectations originally set for its exploration of protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. The historic mission is the first to orbit two extraterrestrial solar system targets, and the first to orbit any object in the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Article
July 2016: White spots are salt deposits
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. This result seems to indicate that there has been recent hydrothermal activity in the presence of water. Article
March 2016: Dawn is still at work around Ceres
Jan 2016: Fly Over Ceres
Video of Ceres
9 Dec 2015: Dwarf planet Ceres is shown in these false-color renderings, which highlight differences in surface materials. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft were used to create a movie of Ceres rotating, followed by a flyover view of Occator Crater, home of Ceres’ brightest area.
Dawn Discoveries so Far
For the latest information on Ceres and Vesta, watch this NASA video from 8th October 2015:
Like most NASA videos, there's a very dull intro that you can skip if you jump to 3 minutes in.
Ceres from Dawn
The above image is a single frame from a video created using the data from Dawn. To see the animation, click on the image above.
Dawn Images and Results
The following data is from a lecture by Chris Russell on 21 July 2015 which can be seen here.
Occator Crater and Bright Spots
The crater with the brightest collection of "bright spots" is officially designated as Occator Crater. It would appear that a"haze" has been detected in the crater, although more work is required to confirm this, which indicates that bright spots might be due to ice that is sublimating into water vapour which fills the crater. The image above is a frame from a movie showing the crater from many angles - not yet released.
Ceres has only one mountain - nick named "The Pyramid"
Seen in a movie (which we hope will be released soon) Ceres' only detected mountain is around 5km tall, 30km wide and has a knobby flat top with bright downslope streaks. It is surprisingly similar to the mountains seen on Pluto.
The team have named many of the craters after harvest deities. These names have now been approved by the IAU.
Ceres is smaller and denser
The physical properities of Ceres has been updated by dawn. It is slightly smaller than previousuly thought and also denser by 4%. Also the north pole is pointing in a different direction than ground based measurements suggested.
For the latest on the spacecraft health see: NASA's Dawn 2015 Mission Status Page
Dawn - An introduction with commentary by the late great Leonard Nimoy
Dawn Flight Path
Dawn was launched on 27th September 2007 after surviving several cancellations and reinstatements. its mission is to study two very different protoplanets - Vesta a 500km diameter asteroid and Ceres a 950km diameter dwarf planet.
Ion Drive Propulsion
Dawn is also NASA's first purely exploratory mission to use ion propulsion engines. These engines use up to 10KW of electrical power from its solar panels to accelerate atoms of Xenon to very high speed (about 50km/s) in order to create a small impulse force - equivalent to the weight of a sheet of paper. Over time this small force can be used to change the speed of the craft by a significant amount. The spacecraft has just under 1000kg of Xenon which can, over time, change the speed of the craft by up to 10km/s. A "crazy" explanation of the ion drive can be seen on this video:
On its way from Vesta to Mars, the Ion drive switched off for four days due to the spacecraft entering safe mode - possibly due to radiation affecting its computers. This switch off resulted in a delay in reaching Ceres by around a month.
Dawn's flight plan included a flyby of Mars to increase its speed, and then a rendezvous with Vesta which it would study for over a year before moving on to meet up with Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft mission to orbit more than one extraterrestrial object. The schedule is listed below:
|Earth, Launch||27 September 2007|
|Mars, Flyby||17 February 2009|
|Arrival at Vesta||16 July 2011|
|Departure of Vesta||5 September 2012|
|Arrival at Ceres||6 March 2015|
|Mission Extension||July 2016<|
|End of Ceres Operation||2017|
Dawn was the first spacecraft to visit Vesta and was able to study it intensively whilst orbiting for some 18 months. Vesta, with a 525km diameter, is the second largest object in the asteroid belt after the dwarf planet Ceres. Although roughly spherical in shape, it is not considered to be in hydrostatic equilibrium (mostly due to a large concave feature and a protruding feature on its southern side) and therefore is not recognised as being a dwarf planet.
It was discovered in 1807 and for some fifty years was classified as a planet until more and more asteroids were discovered and it became demoted to being an asteroid.
This video highlights some of the findings at Vesta:
Dawn was meant to leave Vesta in August 2012 and head on to Ceres. However due to a problem with one of its reaction wheels (used to help orient the spacecraft) its departure was delayed until September. It is now successfully orbiting Ceres and gathering a huge amount of scientific data, which you can find out about by following the links below.
Dawn Entering Ceres Orbit
The video below shows Dawn going into orbit: