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Dawn spacecraft will keep orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres indefinitely

Dawn spacecraft over Ceres

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?  The Dawn spacecraft (illustrated) has been orbiting Ceres since 2015 and will soon swoop lower over the dwarf planet’s surface than ever before, thanks to an extension of its mission announced October 19.

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It’s a new day for the Dawn spacecraft. The NASA spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since 2015, just got its final marching orders: Keep orbiting Ceres indefinitely.

The extension, which NASA announced October 19, will be the second time Dawn’s mission at Ceres has been renewed. It means Dawn will still be in orbit when Ceres makes its closest approach to the sun in April 2018. At that point, ice on Ceres’ surface may turn to water vapor. The spacecraft will also move to lower altitudes over the dwarf planet than ever before, swooping as low as 200 kilometers above the surface. Dawn will use its onboard mass spectrometer to learn more about how much ice is hidden in Ceres’ surface.

Dawn will stay in a stable orbit around Ceres after it runs out of fuel in the second half of 2018. Other options would have been to move the spacecraft on to a new space rock — like Dawn itself did when it left the asteroid Vesta for Ceres in 2012 — or deliberately crash it, like the Rosetta spacecraft did in 2016.


Measured distance within the Milky Way gives clues to what our galaxy looks like

By Lisa Grossman 2:45pm, October 12, 2017
Astronomers used an old but challenging technique to directly measure the distance to a star on the opposite side of the galaxy for the first time.
Animals,, Oceans,, Conservation

New deep-sea sponge could play a starring role in monitoring ocean health

By Carolyn Gramling 7:00am, October 10, 2017
A new species of sponge that dwells on metal-rich rocks could help scientists track the environmental impact of deep-sea mining.
Animals,, Paleontology

Ancient whale turns up on wrong side of the world

By Laurel Hamers 12:00pm, October 9, 2017
A Southern Hemisphere whale species was briefly a northern resident.
Chemistry,, Technology

Cool way to peer into molecules’ inner workings wins chemistry Nobel Prize

By Laurel Hamers 8:04am, October 4, 2017
Three scientists will split the prize for their work developing cryo-electron microscopy.
Paleontology,, Animals

A baby ichthyosaur’s last meal revealed

By Helen Thompson 2:00am, October 3, 2017
A new look at an old fossil shows that some species of baby ichthyosaurs may have dined on squid.
Physiology,, Biomedicine

Body clock mechanics wins U.S. trio the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine

By Tina Hesman Saey 6:41am, October 2, 2017
The cellular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms was a Nobel Prize‒winning discover for three Americans.

Bedbugs may be into dirty laundry

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, September 28, 2017
When humans aren’t around, bedbugs go for the next best thing: smelly human laundry.

Saber-toothed kittens were born armed to pounce

By Carolyn Gramling 2:00pm, September 27, 2017
Even as babies, saber-toothed cats had not only oversized canine teeth but also unusually powerful forelimbs.
Paleontology,, Animals

This giant marsupial was a seasonal migrant

By Laurel Hamers 7:05pm, September 26, 2017
The giant, extinct marsupial Diprotodon optatum migrated seasonally, the first marsupial shown to do so.

About 1 in 5 teens has had a concussion

By Aimee Cunningham 11:00am, September 26, 2017
Almost 20 percent of U.S. teens have had at least one diagnosed concussion in the past, an analysis of a 2016 national survey finds.
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