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DAWN mission logo Image credit: NASA/JPL

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Spacecraft DAWN – by Brendan Burke

On September 27, 2007 the spacecraft Dawn was launched from the Cape Canaveral Space launch Complex. This spacecraft is on a mission to visit two objects in our solar system known as Vesta and Ceres. Vesta and Ceres are protoplanets, and are the biggest spacial bodies in the asteroid belt between the planets Mars and Jupiter.  To give a reference for size, Vesta is about the size of Arizona, and Ceres is about the size of Texas.

This mission will take almost a decade to complete.  Its goal is to find out about the early formation processes of our solar system.  These two bodies were chosen because they are similar in size and distance from the sun, but interestingly enough, have very different compositional nature. Vesta developed like the inner planets of our solar system, differentiated and with a dry terrestrial surface.  Whereas Ceres is similar to the outer icy gas planets.  The mission hopes to be able to find out about the formation of these two protoplanets and from that knowledge, learn about the formation of the different planets in our solar system, and what the early solar system might have been like.  Specifically the mission seeks to answer what role size and water play in the evolution of a planet.

The spacecraft is currently on its way from Vesta to Ceres.  It arrived at Vesta in July 2011, and stayed there studying that body until September 2012, when it started towards Ceres.  It is scheduled to arrive at Ceres in February 2015, where it will stay until July of that year when the mission is over.  Anyone further interested in this mission can keep updated through the NASA website which has a log of the mission’s status.