Public event highlights NASA’s Dawn Mission to dwarf planet Ceres
PASADENA, Calif — An event was held Saturday, May 9, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.PDT on the campus of the California Institute of Technology on a beautiful, yet cloudy, afternoon. With a special focus on NASA’s Dawn mission to the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, this celebration of planetary exploration was held to keep the public apprised regarding the current status of a variety of missions and endeavors.
There were numerous demonstrations and activities for both children and adults, including the Oculus Rift 3-D tours of the Moon and asteroid Vesta. Guests could then go and touch a piece of Vesta in the asteroid booth after taking a virtual tour of its surface.
The Dawn spacecraft booth also had a test article of the ion engine on display along with a scale model of the 65 foot (20 meters) wide spacecraft and 3-D images for viewing.
According to information presented during the event, 1 in every 20 meteorites that arrives is from Vesta. The panel session held later in the day discussed why the space agency is planning on sending a sample return mission to the asteroid – when there is so much materials available from the small world already on Earth.
The answer is rather straight forward.
The sample return missions are looking for precursors to biomolecules (among all the other science these craft would accomplish) which could get destroyed during the heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The meteorites that survive entry are then typically weathered for long periods on the Earth’s surface, so they are expecting different results from the sample return missions.
Vesta is not the only target that NASA has its eyes on.
Charon, the moon of the Kuiper Belt dwarf planet Pluto, may have crystalline water ice, this is an exciting discovery because it doesn’t survive over time due to radiation exposure. So the fact that it is there is evidence of surface activity, ammonium hydrates and / or cryo-volcanic deposits are a likely source.
Water vapor has been detected by the Herschel Space Observatory in the area of Ceres. Longitudes of detection include concentrations around the bright spots that are the focus of so much study.
These and a wide array of other discoveries that were covered during the afternoon discussions. To better accommodate the various ages of the guests that attended, NASA and its partners worked to ensure that different panels had been tailor-made for different ages.
Matthew Kuhns is an aerospace engineer living in California and enjoys capturing the beauty of the aerospace world with his camera. As an engineer he specializes in fuel & propulsion systems and as a photographer his internationally award-winning images are published in magazines and books. Kuhns was introduced to the founder of SpaceFlight Insider during the pre launch activities for SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission and was promptly brought on to the team as SFI’s California photographer.