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NASA’s Dawn Mission- New Orbit, New Opportunities

NASA's Dawn probe moving to lowest-ever orbit around Ceres

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NASA's InSight spacecraft touches down on Mars. Pixabay
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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is set to reach in early June its new, final orbit which will be less than 50 kilometres above the surface of the inner solar system’s only dwarf planet — 10 times closer than the spacecraft has ever been.

Soon after, it will begin collecting images and other science data, and that very low orbit will also garner some of Dawn’s closest images yet, NASA said on Thursday.

The spacecraft will collect gamma ray and neutron spectra, which help scientists understand variations in the chemical makeup of Ceres’ uppermost layer.

“The team is eagerly awaiting the detailed composition and high-resolution imaging from the new, up-close examination,” said Dawn’s Principal Investigator Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

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Representational Image, VOA

“These new high-resolution data allow us to test theories formulated from the previous data sets and discover new features of this fascinating dwarf planet,” Raymond added.

Dawn was launched in 2007 and has been exploring the two largest bodies in the main asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres, to uncover new insights into our solar system. It entered Ceres’ orbit in March 2015.

The transfer from Dawn’s previous orbit to its final one is not as simple as making a lane change.

Also Read: NASA Probe to ‘Touch’ the Sun Will Carry 1.1 mn Names

Dawn’s operations team worked for months to plot the course for this second extended mission of the spacecraft, which is propelled by an ion engine.

Engineers mapped out more than 45,000 possible trajectories before devising a plan that will allow the best science observations, NASA said. (IANS)

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Wintertime Ice Growth in Arctic Sea Slows Long-Term Decline: NASA

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration

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Wintertime ice growth in Arctic sea slows long-term decline: NASA. Flcikr

While sea ice in the Arctic continues to be on the decline, a new research from the US Space agency NASA suggests that it is regrowing at faster rates during the winter than it was a few decades ago.

The findings showed that since 1958, the Arctic sea ice cover has lost on average around two-thirds of its thickness and now 70 per cent of the sea ice cap is made of seasonal ice, or ice that forms and melts within a single year.

But at the same time, that sea ice is vanishing quicker than it has ever been observed in the satellite record, it is also thickening at a faster rate during winter.

This increase in growth rate might last for decades, explained the researchers, in the paper to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise.

“This increase in the amount of sea ice growing in winter doesn’t overcome the large increase in melting we’ve observed in recent decades,” said lead author Alek Petty, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
However, this does not mean that the ice cover is recovering, though. Just delaying its demise. Flickr

“Overall, thickness is decreasing. Arctic sea ice is still very much in decline across all seasons and is projected to continue its decline over the coming decades,” she added.

To explore sea ice growth variability across the Arctic, the team used climate models and observations of sea ice thickness from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

They found that in the 1980s, when Arctic sea ice was on average 6.6 feet thick in October, about 3.3 extra feet of ice would form over the winter.

This rate of growth may continue to increase, and in the coming decades, we could also have an ice pack that would on average be only around 3.3 feet thick in October, but could experience up to five feet of ice growth over the winter.

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However, by the middle of the century, the strong increases in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures will outweigh the mechanism that allows ice to regrow faster, and the Arctic sea ice cover will decline further, Petty said.

The switch will happen once the sea ice is less than 1.6 feet thick at the beginning of winter, or its concentration — the percentage of an area that is covered in sea ice — is less than 50 per cent, she noted. (IANS)