Hello Ceres! NASA spacecraft on first visit to dwarf planet - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Hello Ceres! NASA spacecraft on first visit to dwarf planet

Posted: Updated:
NASA spacecraft on Friday flawlessly slipped into orbit around Ceres in the first visit to a dwarf planet. NASA spacecraft on Friday flawlessly slipped into orbit around Ceres in the first visit to a dwarf planet.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - After a nearly eight-year journey, a NASA spacecraft on Friday flawlessly slipped into orbit around Ceres in the first visit to a dwarf planet.

The Dawn craft will circle the dwarf planet for more than a year, exploring its surface and unraveling its mysteries.

"It went exactly the way we expected. Dawn gently, elegantly slid into Ceres' gravitational embrace," said mission chief engineer Marc Rayman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $473 million mission.

Ceres is the second and final stop for Dawn, which launched in 2007 on a voyage to the main asteroid belt, a zone between Mars and Jupiter that's littered with rocky leftovers from the formation of the sun and planets some 4½ billion years ago.

Dawn will spend 16 months photographing the icy surface. It previously spent a year at Vesta exploring the asteroid and sending back stunning close-ups of its lumpy surface before cruising onto the Texas-sized Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt.

The 3-billion mile trip was made possible by Dawn's ion propulsion engines, which provide gentle yet constant acceleration and are more efficient than conventional thrusters.

As Dawn approached Ceres, it beamed back the best pictures ever taken of the dwarf planet. Some puzzling images revealed a pair of shiny patches inside a crater - signs of possible ice or salt.

Scientists hope to get a better glimpse of the spots when the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface. It'll also study whether previously spotted plumes of water vapor continue to vent.

"There are a lot of secrets that will be revealed," said mission scientist Lucy McFadden at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

The spacecraft glided into place at 4:39 a.m. Friday and flight controllers received confirmation about an hour later. The maneuver occurred without a tense moment, unlike other captures that require braking to slow down.

"The real drama is exploring this alien, exotic world," Rayman said.

Dawn is currently in Ceres' shadows and won't take new pictures until it emerges in April, he said.

Discovered in 1801, Ceres - measuring 600 miles across - is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvest. It was initially called a planet before it was demoted to an asteroid and later classified as a dwarf planet. Like planets, dwarf planets are spherical in shape, but they share the same celestial neighborhood with other similar-sized bodies.

With its massive solar wings spread out, Dawn is about the size of a tractor-trailer, measuring 65 feet from tip to tip.

Dawn carries an infrared spectrometer and a gamma ray and neutron detector to study the surface of Ceres from orbit. In the coming months, it will spiral down to within 235 miles of Ceres' surface where it will remain long after the mission is over.

"Every time we get closer, we see more things that make us scratch our heads," said mission scientist Mark Sykes, who heads the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona.

Dawn almost never made it out to the inner solar system. The mission endured funding-related project cancellations and launch delays before it received the green light to fly.

Dwarf planets lately have become the focus of exploration.

This summer, another NASA spacecraft - New Horizons - is set to make the first visit to Pluto, which was demoted to dwarf planet.

___

Online:

Dawn mission: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/

___

Contact the reporter on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/SciWriAlicia

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner resigns amid graphic baboon hunting photo controversy

    Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner resigns amid graphic baboon hunting photo controversy

    Monday, October 15 2018 6:29 PM EDT2018-10-15 22:29:39 GMT

    BOISE, Idaho - Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer has resigned, effective immediately, after photos involving a dead baboon family surfaced from an African hunting trip. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter announced Monday afternoon that he asked for and received the resignation from Fischer, who was under intense criticism for the graphic photos from last month.

    >>

    BOISE, Idaho - Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Blake Fischer has resigned, effective immediately, after photos involving a dead baboon family surfaced from an African hunting trip. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter announced Monday afternoon that he asked for and received the resignation from Fischer, who was under intense criticism for the graphic photos from last month.

    >>
  • Hayden man shares story of Grizzly attack while bow hunting in Montana

    Hayden man shares story of Grizzly attack while bow hunting in Montana

    Sunday, October 14 2018 3:11 PM EDT2018-10-14 19:11:51 GMT
    Bob Legasa -  FacebookBob Legasa - Facebook

    BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Facebook post by Bob Legasa of Hayden, Idaho is going viral after he survived a grizzly attack while bow hunting in Montana. Legasa says in the post: "My hunting partner Greg Gibson and I surprised a Sow grizzly and her cub as we were moving in on some Elk. We walked up to with in 12 yards when we all saw each other And before I could even reach for my bear spray she was at full charge.

    >>

    BOZEMAN, Mont. - A Facebook post by Bob Legasa of Hayden, Idaho is going viral after he survived a grizzly attack while bow hunting in Montana. Legasa says in the post: "My hunting partner Greg Gibson and I surprised a Sow grizzly and her cub as we were moving in on some Elk. We walked up to with in 12 yards when we all saw each other And before I could even reach for my bear spray she was at full charge.

    >>
  • Woman pleads innocent to murder by reason of insanity

    Woman pleads innocent to murder by reason of insanity

    Sunday, October 14 2018 7:05 PM EDT2018-10-14 23:05:39 GMT
    Luke HollisterLuke Hollister

    COLFAX, Wash. (AP) - A woman accused of fatally shooting a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, man in Colfax, Washington, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. The Spokesman-Review reports Ashley Myers entered the plea to second-degree murder Friday in Whitman County Superior Court.    Insanity pleas allow for the defense to argue for a potential commitment to a psychiatric facility instead of prison. 

    >>

    COLFAX, Wash. (AP) - A woman accused of fatally shooting a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, man in Colfax, Washington, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. The Spokesman-Review reports Ashley Myers entered the plea to second-degree murder Friday in Whitman County Superior Court.    Insanity pleas allow for the defense to argue for a potential commitment to a psychiatric facility instead of prison. 

    >>
HD DOPPLER 6i
/
  • Top Stories from KHQHomeMore>>

  • McMorris Rodgers and Brown raise combined $9 million so far

    McMorris Rodgers and Brown raise combined $9 million so far

    Monday, October 15 2018 8:00 PM EDT2018-10-16 00:00:43 GMT
    Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-ReviewJesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review

    SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The latest campaign finance report for eastern Washington's U.S. House seat shows that Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Lisa Brown have raised more than $9 million between then. By the period ending Sept. 30, McMorris Rodgers had raised $5.1 million and Brown has raised a total of $4.6 million. Brown's money is the most ever raised by a challenger to the seven-term incumbent.

    >>

    SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The latest campaign finance report for eastern Washington's U.S. House seat shows that Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democratic challenger Lisa Brown have raised more than $9 million between then. By the period ending Sept. 30, McMorris Rodgers had raised $5.1 million and Brown has raised a total of $4.6 million. Brown's money is the most ever raised by a challenger to the seven-term incumbent.

    >>
  • Judge tosses Stormy Daniels' defamation suit against Trump

    Judge tosses Stormy Daniels' defamation suit against Trump

    Monday, October 15 2018 7:52 PM EDT2018-10-15 23:52:51 GMT
    Photo: CBS / 60 MinutesPhoto: CBS / 60 Minutes

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge has dismissed porn actress Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero issued the order Monday in Los Angeles. Daniels alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and sued him in April. The lawsuit came after Trump tweeted about a composite sketch of a man Daniels says threatened her in 2011 to keep quiet about an alleged affair. 

    >>

    WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge has dismissed porn actress Stormy Daniels' defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero issued the order Monday in Los Angeles. Daniels alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and sued him in April. The lawsuit came after Trump tweeted about a composite sketch of a man Daniels says threatened her in 2011 to keep quiet about an alleged affair. 

    >>
  • Man run over by lawn mower while trying to kill son with chainsaw

    Man run over by lawn mower while trying to kill son with chainsaw

    Monday, October 15 2018 7:38 PM EDT2018-10-15 23:38:29 GMT

    BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) - A man who police say was run over with a lawn mower while trying to kill his son with a chain saw has had to have his leg amputated. The Bristol Herald Courier reports that a warrant for 76-year-old Douglas Ferguson couldn’t be served until Tuesday because of the severity of his injuries.

    >>

    BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) - A man who police say was run over with a lawn mower while trying to kill his son with a chain saw has had to have his leg amputated. The Bristol Herald Courier reports that a warrant for 76-year-old Douglas Ferguson couldn’t be served until Tuesday because of the severity of his injuries.

    >>