Destination Dwarf Planet: The Dawn Mission Nears Ceres

[MUSIC] Did you know that cereal comes
from the word Ceres, the Roman goddess of
agriculture and grain. Well, you may not
know that there’s a distant solar system
world Ceres. It was discovered
200 years ago and it’s had a sort
of identity crisis. It used to be
known as a planet and then an asteroid
and now a dwarf planet. Well, whatever
you call it, Dawn, with its xenon ion
propulsion system, is about to call it home. Dawn is truly an
historic mission. It’s the first mission to orbit
a main belt asteroid. And, it’s the first
mission to orbit two interplanetary bodies; two fossils from the very
beginning of our solar system and thus, it’s
telling us part of the story of our
own beginnings. Dawn orbited Vesta
and spent 14 months exploring that
alien world. We saw a crater there
300 miles in diameter. And, in the center of that
crater there’s a mountain that’s two and a half times
the height of Mount Everest. It’s very young. It
formed very hot. But we also found that
there was water on Vesta, and that water had to come
from somewhere else. And now we’re on the
verge of exploring an even larger
alien world, Ceres. Thanks to Dawn’s unique
ion propulsion system, it has a different way of going
into orbit around Ceres from what we’re used to. It will slowly
creep up on Ceres and gently use its ion
propulsion system to gracefully slip
into orbit. Dawn is going to be
revealing to us this mysterious world that
for more than two centuries has just been a faint smudge of
light amidst the stars. We’re now getting pictures
that are better than the best we’d
ever had before. The bright spot that’s been
seen in the approach images is very interesting because
it’s in the same region, where the Hershel
Space Observatory detected water vapor emission
from Ceres’ surface. It’s possible that
objects like Ceres brought water
to the Earth. It has a rocky core
and an ice mantle and in the past had an ocean
like Europa and Enceladus. Dawn carries a suite of
sophisticated instruments that will allow us to determine
not only what Ceres looks like but what it’s made of and what
its interior structure is. So, we’re going to learn about
the geology and the chemistry… …what minerals are on Ceres. All about the nature
of this world and it’s like a
time capsule from the dawn of
the solar system. Dawn’s legacy extends
beyond a good breakfast. And who knows what surprises
we’re gonna find at Ceres? I love the smell of
xenon in the morning.


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