Artistic vision demonstrated by NASA Dawn spacecraft hovering above dwarf planet Ceres.
At NASA, it was decided a second time to extend the Dawn mission to Ceres, the largest celestial body in the asteroid belt. Among the new tasks it is planned to descend to a lower orbit than it has been since 2015. The ship will continue to use scientific tools and stay near the facility until it has exhausted its fuel reserves.
The team of the device is considering various maneuvers for entering a new elliptical orbit, which will bring Dawn closer to a distance of 200 km from the surface. Previously, the minimum mark was 385 km.
The priority now includes data collection using a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, which calculates the amount and energy of gamma rays and neutrons. This information will help to understand the composition of the upper layer of Ceres and the water volume index. The apparatus will also extract visible light images of surface geology and study mineralogy. The extended mission comes at the time of the passage of the perihelion object in April 2018. At this point, Ceres will approach the maximum proximity to the Sun, which means that the surface ice will evaporate more strongly. This can lead to the formation of a weak atmospheric layer.
The mission team clarifies plans and tasks. It is important to complete everything so as not to introduce earth microbes to the object. Therefore, Dawn to the last will collect data, and then forever hang in orbit.