We here at GFR are automatically predisposed to be fascinated by any new foray into space exploration…that’s kind of our thing. And while the Curiosity Mars mission may have gotten all the headlines last year, one equally fascinating journey has been underway since 2007. NASA’s Dawn mission seeks to explore two of the largest asteroids in our solar system, Vesta and Ceres. If the Dawn mission hasn’t been on your radar now, the 12-minute video below is the perfect excuse to catch up, and Leonard Nimoy is your guide.
The mission itself has plenty to entice space junkies, but it’s the specs of the Dawn spacecraft itself that gets my inner astronomer salivating. Dawn is equipped with two 27-foot-long solar panels to power the craft, and is propelled by ion engines that convert xenon gas into plasma. Once converted, the plasma is blasted out the back of the craft at speeds up to 78,000 miles per hour — that’s a staggering 21 miles per second.
Dawn put Vesta in the rearview mirror this past September, departing for Ceres on September 5, 2012, a month after Curiosity set down on Mars, which might help explain why didn’t hear nearly as much about Dawn. Even with that speedy ion engine, Dawn won’t reach Ceres until February 2015. The information gathered from these two asteroids will provide scientists with a new look at our past, helping them to understand the earliest days of our solar system’s formation.