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NASA’s Dawn Mission

  • 03 Nov 2018
  • 2 min read

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft (launched in 2007) which orbited the two largest objects (Vesta and Ceres) in the asteroid belt has run out of fuel, ending a historic 11-year mission that unravelled many mysteries of our solar system.

  • Mission managers of Dawn Mission concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing.

Significance of the Mission

  • The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of the solar system.
  • In 2011, when Dawn arrived at Vesta, the spacecraft became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter.
  • In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth.
  • The data Dawn beamed back to Earth from its four science experiments enabled scientists to compare two planet-like worlds that evolved very differently.
  • Among its accomplishments, Dawn showed how important location was to the way objects in the early solar system formed and evolved.
  • Dawn also reinforced the idea that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history and potentially still do.
  • Dawn’s data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system.
  • Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars.
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