Dawn just about to leave for Ceres, GRAIL closer to the moon, 24 Themis getting closer

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Three things to note:

-- Dawn is just a few days from breaking orbit and leaving Vesta. Being able to see Vesta up close for such a long time was fantastic, and now it's time to move on to the main mission: the dwarf planet Ceres. In a few days the where is Dawn now? page showing the probe's current position will return. Arrival is set for February 2015, which seems like quite a while except that it's already almost 2013 and the approach phase will probably begin in December 2014, so that's pretty much tomorrow in astronomical terms.

-- GRAIL has just begun its extended mission around the moon, this time at a much lower orbit. The twin spacecraft (named Ebb and Flow) have lowered their orbit from 55 km above the surface to just 23 km, meaning they will be just 8 km above the surface of some of the highest points of the moon. GRAIL is not just a gravity mapping mission: in the meantime the camera MoonKAM has been busily snapping photos on demand as desired by middle schools, producing over a hundred thousand images to look through so far. This one for example is from 55 km up:

-- In December, 24 Themis will be at closest approach to Earth since we found out it has lots and lots of ice on its surface. Let's hope the Hubble is planning to observe it then.


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