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NASA’s Dawn captures closest-yet images of Ceres

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NASA's spacecraft Dawn credit: www.nasa.gov

By NewsGram Staff-Writer

NASA’s orbital spacecraft Dawn has sent the closest images of the dwarf planet called Ceres. The stunning pictures display Ceres’ cater formation features with tall conical mountains and narrow braided fractures on it.

credit: www.nbcnews.com
credit: www.nbcnews.com

“Dawn’s view is now three times sharper than its previous mapping orbit, revealing exciting new details of this intriguing dwarf planet,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

At its current orbital altitude of 1,470 km, Dawn takes 11 days to capture and return images of Ceres’ whole surface. Over the next two months, the spacecraft will map the entirety of Ceres six times. The spacecraft is using its framing camera to extensively map the surface, enabling 3-D modelling. Every image from this orbit has a resolution of 450 feet per pixel, and covers less than one percent of the surface of Ceres.

At the same time, Dawn’s visible and infra-red mapping spectrometer is collecting data that will give scientists a better understanding of the minerals found on Ceres’ surface. Engineers and scientists will now refine their measurements of Ceres’ gravity field which will help mission planners in designing Dawn’s next orbit.

Dawn is the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, and also the first to orbit two distinct solar system targets. In late October, Dawn will begin spiralling toward the final orbit, which will be at an altitude of 375 km.

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Israel’s Private Spacecraft to Shoot For Moon

Israeli private spacecraft shoots for Moon

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Lunar eclipse, Moon
Earth starts to cast its shadow on the moon during a complete lunar eclipse seen from Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 28, 2018. VOA

Aiming to become the fourth country to make a soft landing on the Moon, Israel’s non-profit SpaceIL has announced it will launch a spacecraft from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Thursday on board a Falcon 9 rocket.

The unmanned craft, weighing 1,300 pounds and standing approximately five feet tall, will then begin an about seven-week journey to the Moon, from where it will send back images of the rocky surface and conduct experiments on the lunar magnetic field.

The spacecraft is called “Beresheet,” a reference to the first words of the Bible in Hebrew: “In the beginning…”

For decades, the Moon was the exclusive domain of the superpowers. The Soviet Union landed Luna 2 on the Earth’s nearest neighbour in 1959. Three years later, the US landed Ranger 4 on the Moon.

These were “hard landings,” meaning the craft crashed into the Moon. The first “soft landings” for both countries came in 1966, when spacecraft made controlled descents to the lunar surface.

It would take nearly another 50 years for a third country to perform a soft Moon landing, when China’s Chang’e 3 did it in 2013.

If Israel’s spacecraft venture proceeds as planned, it would become the fourth — and by far the smallest — country to do so. It would also become the first private enterprise to make a controlled landing on the Moon, with the smallest spacecraft to do it, and by far the least expensive mission.

The total cost of the programme, raised from private donations, is $100 million, a small fraction of the billions of dollars invested in the US space program.

The moon is seen near the Illimani mountain during a full lunar eclipse in La Paz, Bolivia, July 27, 2018. Photo: Reuters.

“This mission that we were talking about was really a mission impossible,” said entrepreneur Morris Kahn, who donated $40 million to the project.

“The only thing is I didn’t realize it was impossible, and the three engineers that started this project didn’t think it was impossible, and the way Israel thinks, nothing is impossible… We are really making this dream come true,” Kahn added.

SpaceIL was founded eight years ago to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize, an international competition to see whether a private enterprise could land a spacecraft on the moon, move 500 meters in any direction, and transmit live, high-definition video from the lunar surface.

The competition was canceled in January 2018 when none of the five teams left in the competition was able to meet the March deadline for a launch.

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But some of the teams persisted, determined to land on the Moon even without the incentive of $30 million in prize money.

SpaceIL pressed on, signing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch their craft to the Moon on board a Falcon 9 rocket, which is scheduled for launch on February 21.

Beresheet will travel approximately 4 million miles on its journey, circling the earth multiple times to gain speed before it slingshots towards the moon. It is scheduled to land on April 11. (IANS)