Photo Agency - Astronomy - Space - Nature

> Dawn approaches Ceres

Dawn approaches Ceres

author: Walter B. Myers/Novapix

reference: e-son35-00002

Image Size 300 DPI: 72 * 50 cm

In march 2015 the unmanned Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at the dwarf planet Ceres. The 65 foot long, 2.5 ton probe was launched from the Earth in 2007, passed Mars in 2009, and went into orbit around the protoplanet Vesta in July 2011 where it stayed until September 2012. Once in orbit around Ceres, Dawn is expected to operate for about a year making observations of this largest object in the asteroid belt. In this image Dawn's three xenon electrostatic ion thrusters can be seen emitting ionized xenon's characteristic blue/magenta glow, gently propelling the probe toward Ceres. While the ion engines have relatively low specific thrust (about equal to the weight of a few sheets of paper), they can operate continuously for long periods making efficient use of the approximately 1,000 pounds of xenon propellant onboard. The wing-like solar arrays produce about 1,300 watts for probe's propulsion and other electrical systems. While no close-up observations of yet been made of Ceres itself, here it is rendered as appearing similar to a much smaller version of the Earth's Moon, heavily cratered with the addition of surface water ice and hypothesized plumes of ice crystals from water geysers on its surface.

Keywords for this photo: