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Science News Staff

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Science Ticker

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.

Earth

Plate tectonics started at least 3.5 billion years ago

By Carolyn Gramling 3:12pm, September 21, 2017
Analyses of titanium in rock suggest plate tectonics began 500 million years earlier than thought.
Animals

Old barn owls aren’t hard of hearing

By Helen Thompson 7:05pm, September 19, 2017
A new study suggests that older barn owls hear just as well as younger ones.
Astronomy,, Planetary Science

These are Cassini’s parting shots of the Saturn system

By Lisa Grossman 12:09am, September 15, 2017
In its last hours before plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, the Cassini spacecraft turned its cameras to some of the system’s well-known features.
Planetary Science

The Cassini probe dies tomorrow. Here’s how to follow its end

By Helen Thompson 2:30pm, September 14, 2017
Science News is on the scene at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the big finish of the Cassini mission to Saturn.
Astronomy,, Planetary Science

So long, Titan. Cassini snaps parting pics of Saturn’s largest moon

By Lisa Grossman 4:05pm, September 13, 2017
The last swing past Saturn’s largest moon sent Cassini heading directly towards the planet — and showed how future spacecraft will explore other moons.
Astronomy,, Planetary Science

Final flyby puts Cassini on a collision course with Saturn

By Lisa Grossman 4:00pm, September 11, 2017
A “last kiss goodbye” with Saturn’s largest moon sent the Cassini spacecraft on its final trajectory into the planet’s atmosphere.
Astronomy,, Planetary Science

Pluto’s pits, ridges and famous plain get official names

By Lisa Grossman 6:05pm, September 7, 2017
From Adlivun to Voyager, the International Astronomical Union officially names 14 surface features on the dwarf planet.
Animals,, Biophysics

Why bats crash into windows

By Helen Thompson 2:00pm, September 7, 2017
Smooth, vertical surfaces may be blind spots for bats and cause some animals to face-plant, study suggests.
Particle Physics

The results from a slew of experiments are in: Dark matter remains elusive

By Emily Conover 8:00am, September 6, 2017
Scientists continue the search for particles that make up the universe’s missing matter.
Archaeology,, Anthropology,, Human Evolution

People may have lived in Brazil more than 20,000 years ago

By Bruce Bower 7:00am, September 5, 2017
Stone Age humans left behind clues of their presence at a remote Brazilian rock shelter.
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