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The Dawn mission

The Dawn mission

Studying Ceres and Vesta will help us learn more about the early history of the Solar System and how rocky planets are formed.

Geography

Keywords

Dawn space probe, space probe, asteroid belt, Ceres, Vesta, asteroid, space research, Jupiter, Mars, ion thruster, gravitation, Solar System, outer space, astronomy, astrophysics, geography, physics

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Scenes

The Solar System and the Asteroid Belt

The Asteroid Belt is located between the inner and outer planets, that is, between Mars and Jupiter, at an average distance of 1.9 to 4.2 AU from the Sun.
So far tens of thousands of asteroids have been identified, but – according to estimates – their number can be several million. Approximately 200 of these asteroids have a diameter of over 100 km. The two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt are Ceres and Vesta.

Location of Ceres and Vesta

  • Asteroid Belt - It is located between the inner and outer planets, that is, between Mars and Jupiter, at an average distance of 1.9–4.2 AU from the Sun.
  • Ceres
  • Vesta

Data

Ceres

Discoverer: Giuseppe Piazzi
Discovery date: 1 January 1801
Diameter: 940 km (1/12 of that of the Earth)
Mass: 9.47×10²⁰ kg (1% of the Moon's mass)
Average density: 2.2 g/cm³
Surface temperature: 168 to 235 K (-105 to -38 °C)
Rotation period: 9 h 4 m
Orbital period: 4.6 years
Axial tilt:
Average distance from Sun: 414,000,000 km (2.77 AU)

Vesta

Discoverer: Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers
Discovery date: 29 March 1807
Diameter: 530 km (4% of the Earth's diameter)
Mass: 2.6×10²⁰ kg (0.4% of the Moon's mass)
Average density: 3.4 g/cm³
Surface temperature: 85 to 255 K (-188 to -18 °C)
Rotation period: 5 h 21 m
Orbital period: 3.63 years
Axial tilt:
Average distance from the Sun: 353,300,000 km (2.36 AU)

Ceres and Vesta

  • Ceres - It is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, a dwarf planet of about 940 km in diameter. Its mass is 40% of that of the Asteroid Belt, while it is only 1% of that of the Moon. Its icy mantle contains more water than the Earth's freshwater resources.
  • Vesta - With a diameter of about 530 km, it is one of the largest objects of the Asteroid Belt. Its mass is 0.4% of that of the Moon, and about 10% of that of the Asteroid Belt. Its shape is nearly spherical.

Ceres (section)

  • crust - A thin and dusty layer.
  • mantle - A layer consisting mostly of water ice.
  • rocky core - It is solid and rich in metals.

Comparison of sizes

Earth

Diameter: 12,756 km
Mass: 5.974×10²⁴ kg

Moon

Diameter: 3475 km
Mass: 7.348×10²² kg

Pluto

Diameter: 2372 km
Mass: 1.305×10²² kg

Ceres

Diameter: 940 km
Mass: 9.47×10²⁰ kg

Vesta

Diameter: 530 km
Mass: 2.6x10²⁰ kg

Flight path of the Dawn space probe

Dawn is the first space probe to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to orbit two destinations in the Solar System. It orbited Vesta for 14 months, then arrived at Ceres in March 2015.

Dawn space probe

  • solar arrays - Their overall length is 20 m. They convert solar power into electric power, which is used to accelerate the xenon fuel in the ion propulsion module.
  • ion thruster - There are three of them on the probe, but only one operates at a time. They are ten times more efficient than chemical thrusters.
  • cameras - They capture images from several angles. These images are used in creating topographic maps.
  • gamma ray and neutron detector - This device examines the chemical composition of the two asteroids.
  • spectrometer - It explores the minerals on the surface, using visible and infrared light.
  • antenna

The Dawn space probe was launched on 27 September 2007. Its mission is to study Vesta and Ceres, the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Both formed in an early period of the Solar System, but their further growth was prevented by Jupiter's enormous gravitational pull. By studying Vesta and Ceres, we can learn more about the early period of the Solar System and the formation of the rocky planets.

Dawn carries three instrument systems: a framing camera to take photos, a mapping spectrometer to map surface minerals, and a Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) to analyse the chemical composition of the two asteroids.

Ion thruster

  • charged metal frame
  • double grid - Two oppositely charged metal grids of 30 cm diameter, with 15,000 holes through which ions exit as an ion cloud.

The Dawn space probe is propelled by ion thrusters. These are ten times more efficient than chemical thrusters.

When placed in an electric field, the particles of the ionised, that is, electrically charged gas, are accelerated. If the accelerating voltage is high enough, the kinetic energy of the ions will be higher than that of the burning gases. The greater efficiency enables the space probe to reach two destinations in the Solar System beyond the Earth-Moon system.

The ion thruster utilises xenon gas. The gas is injected into the ion thruster, where the xenon atoms are ionised by bombardment with electrons. The positively charged xenon ions accelerate in the electrostatic field and are ejected at high speed, while they are neutralised by electrons. In accordance with the law of action-reaction, the space probe is accelerated in the opposite direction from that of the ejected ion cloud.

Animation

  • Mercury
  • Venus
  • Earth
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn
  • Uranus
  • Neptune
  • Asteroid Belt - It is located between the inner and outer planets, that is, between Mars and Jupiter, at an average distance of 1.9–4.2 AU from the Sun.
  • Solar System
  • Ceres - It is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, a dwarf planet of about 940 km in diameter. Its mass is 40% of that of the Asteroid Belt, while it is only 1% of that of the Moon. Its icy mantle contains more water than the Earth's freshwater resources.
  • Vesta - With a diameter of about 530 km, it is one of the largest objects of the Asteroid Belt. Its mass is 0.4% of that of the Moon, and about 10% of that of the Asteroid Belt. Its shape is nearly spherical.
  • crust - A thin and dusty layer.
  • mantle - A layer consisting mostly of water ice.
  • rocky core - It is solid and rich in metals.
  • Earth
  • Moon
  • Pluto
  • Ceres
  • Vesta
  • solar arrays - Their overall length is 20 m. They convert solar power into electric power, which is used to accelerate the xenon fuel in the ion propulsion module.
  • ion thruster - There are three of them on the probe, but only one operates at a time. They are ten times more efficient than chemical thrusters.
  • cameras - They capture images from several angles. These images are used in creating topographic maps.
  • gamma ray and neutron detector - This device examines the chemical composition of the two asteroids.
  • spectrometer - It explores the minerals on the surface, using visible and infrared light.
  • antenna
  • charged metal frame
  • double grid - Two oppositely charged metal grids of 30 cm diameter, with 15,000 holes through which ions exit as an ion cloud.
  • magnetic ring
  • + grid - The voltage between the two oppositely charged grids accelerates the ions, which thereby create thrust.
  • - grid - The voltage between the two oppositely charged grids accelerates the ions, which thereby create thrust.
  • electron
  • ion
  • ion cloud - Ions ejected from the propulsion module propel the space probe.
  • propellant injector - Xenon atoms enter the propulsion module through this device.
  • neutraliser - Electrons are emitted from a separate cathode towards the ion beam, to ensure that equal amounts of positively and negatively charged particles are ejected.
  • xenon atom

Narration

The Asteroid Belt is located between the inner and outer planets, that is, between Mars and Jupiter, at an average distance of 1.9–4.2 AU from the Sun. So far, tens of thousands of asteroids have been identified, but, according to estimates, there may be as many as several million. Approximately 200 of these asteroids have a diameter of over 100 km. The two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt are Ceres and Vesta.

Ceres is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, but the smallest of the dwarf planets in the Solar System. After Ceres, Vesta is the second most massive body in the Asteroid Belt. Its shape is close to an oblate spheroid, but because of the protrusion at its southern pole, it cannot be classified as a dwarf planet.

The diameter of Ceres is one twelfth of that of the Earth. Ceres alone makes up more than one third of the mass of the Asteroid Belt; however, its mass is only 1% of that of the Moon. The diameter of Vesta is barely 4% of that of the Earth. Its mass is 0.4% of that of the Moon and one tenth of that of the Asteroid Belt.

Ceres has a thin, dusty outer crust. Its mantle is rich in frozen water; it contains more water than the Earth's freshwater resources. Ceres has a solid, rocky inner core.

The mission of the Dawn space probe is to study Vesta and Ceres, the two largest objects in the Asteroid Belt located between Mars and Jupiter. Both formed in an early period of the Solar System, but their further growth was prevented by Jupiter's enormous gravitational pull. By studying Ceres and Vesta, we can learn more about the early period of the Solar System and the formation of the rocky planets.

Dawn carries three instrument systems: a framing camera to take photos, a mapping spectrometer to map surface minerals, and a Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector to analyse the chemical composition of the two asteroids.

Dawn is the first space probe to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to orbit two bodies in the Solar System. It was launched on 27 September 2007 and flew by Mars to complete its gravity assist manoeuvre in February 2009. Dawn entered into orbit around Vesta in July 2011 and studied it for 14 months. It reached Ceres in March 2015.

The Dawn space probe is propelled by ion thrusters. These are ten times more efficient than chemical thrusters. When placed in an electric field, the particles of the ionised, or electrically charged gas, are accelerated. If the accelerating voltage is high enough, the kinetic energy of the ions will be higher than that of the burning gases. The greater efficiency enables the space probe to reach two destinations in the Solar System beyond the Earth-Moon system.

The ion thruster utilises xenon gas. The gas is injected into the ion thruster, where the xenon atoms are ionised by bombardment with electrons. The positively charged xenon ions accelerate in the electrostatic field and are ejected at high speed, while they are neutralised by electrons. According to the law of action-reaction, the space probe is accelerated in the opposite direction from that of the ejected ion cloud.

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