The death of Dawn: the NASA Dawn mission is ending

The death of Dawn: the NASA Dawn mission is ending
©NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The NASA Dawn mission is coming to an end after studying time capsules from the early solar system for over ten years.

The NASA Dawn mission was launched in 2007 with the aim of characterising the processes involved in early solar system evolution. To do this, the NASA Dawn mission visited Vesta and Ceres, the largest bodies of the main asteroid belt, and studied the surviving building blocks from the history of the solar system. They mapped Vesta and Ceres from orbit instead of using telescopes or flybys for more in-depth data.

The  mission managers have concluded that the spacecraft has finally run out of hydrazine, the spacecraft’s fuel, after it has now failed to communicate with mission control on Earth.

Highlights of the NASA Dawn mission

According to NASA, the Dawn mission has completed several tasks that no other mission has achieved.

The NASA Dawn mission’s ‘firsts’ are as follows:

  • “Dawn was the first mission to visit Ceres and the first mission to visit Vesta. Ceres and Vesta are the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter;
  • When Dawn arrived at Vesta, it became the first spacecraft to orbit an object in the main asteroid belt;
  • Dawn was the first spacecraft to orbit two extra-terrestrial targets; and
  • When Dawn arrived at Ceres, it was the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet.”

What discoveries were made on the NASA Dawn mission?

During the NASA Dawn mission, several observations were made about our early solar system, including:

  • Dwarf planets could have hosted oceans for a large part of their history and potentially still do;
  • Ceres was geologically active very recently; and
  • The early birthplace of bodies was key to how the early solar system organised and evolved.
Ceres’ lonely mountain, Ahuna Mons, seen from a simulated perspective view ©NASA

 

 

 

 

 

Further viewing on the NASA Dawn mission

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