PLANETARY MISSION UPDATES
|Ceres and Vesta
Launched September 27 2007, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will undertake a four-year journey to the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids in the belt. It will reach Vesta in 2011 and Ceres in 2015.
Ceres was named a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union in 2006. About 590 miles (950 kilometers) wide, Ceres has a rounded shape that suggests a layered interior (core, mantle, and crust) similar to Mercury and Earth.
The Hubble Space Telescope captured these images (right). A giant impact crater (arrow) dominates Vesta's southern hemisphere. The crater is almost as wide as the asteroid's 330-mile (530-kilometer) diameter. The bright and dark areas on Ceres may indicate the presence of different surface materials or surface features, such as craters.
Images courtesy of NASA/ESA/UMD/STSCI/Cornell/SwRI/UCLA
|Closest Approach to Iapetus
On September 10, 2007, the Cassini spacecraft performed its closest flyby of Saturn's moon Iapetus. Approaching within about 1,640 kilometers (1,000 miles) of the moon's surface, Cassini returned hundreds of amazing images.
Iapetus is one of Saturn's stranger moons. Heavily cratered and walnut shaped, it has an oddly two-toned surface. One hemisphere is pitch-black, while the other is as bright as snow. The image reveals a section of terrain at the transition between the bright and dark regions.
Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Space Science Institute
|The Phoenix Mars Lander
Launched August 4, 2007, Phoenix will be the first lander to study the ice-rich soil of Mars' arctic regions. Arriving at the red planet in May 2008, Phoenix will touch down near the north polar ice cap. A robotic arm will obtain samples for analysis, while its stereo color camera and weather station studies the polar climate. Data collected by Phoenix may help us to better understand the history of water at the Martian poles and to determine if the environment is capable of supporting life.
Artist concept courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech/University of Arizona
|Rovers Survived the Dust Storms!
Starting in late June 2007, a series of regional dust storms made life difficult for the Mars Exploration Rovers. Dust-filled skies blocked much of the sunlight needed by the solar-powered rovers. To conserve energy, the rovers' movements and operational duties were severely restricted for nearly two months. By early September, the skies had cleared enough for the rovers to continue their mission.
These maps were created from images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. On June 22, the first dust storm can be seen to the west of Opportunity's location. On July 17, large amounts of dust in the atmosphere hide much of the Martian surface from view.
Images courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Malin Space Science Systems
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