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ASI Agenzia Spaziale Italiana

Bon voyage Dawn

21 Sep 2012, 10:24 UTC
Bon voyage Dawn

For every probe that arrives, there is one that leaves. After the irrepressible landing of Curiosity on the Martian surface, another NASA project has powered up the motors, this time to say goodbye. This is Dawn, which will be waving a white handkerchief at Vesta and quickly moving on to the new target, the dwarf planet Ceres.Launched in 2007 carrying made in Italy equipment, the U.S. satellite journeyed the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter for fourteen long months, giving an unprecedented detailed view of Vesta, collecting valuable data upon which scientists will work to discover the history of our origins. After the first step of the mission, Dawn began its journey for the exploration of the second of the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt and is en route to Ceres. About 4.6 billion kilometers lay before it, a distance that will be covered in no less than two and a half years. The probe will move away from the asteroid following a wider and wider spiral orbit around Vesta, using the hyper-efficient propulsion system called ion propulsion, which exploits the emission of xenon ions generating a small but continues thrust that in space, given the absence of any friction, is sufficient to move the probe in both length and breadth.Despite some recent technical problems, the NASA spacecraft is on track to become the first spacecraft able to orbit two bodies in our solar system that are perhaps the most interesting objects in the asteroid belt. The two protoplanets have opposite characteristics in terms of shape, physical and morphological properties, the geological and mineralogical nature of the surfaces, the presence or absence of dust and/or gas, and this, consider the experts, suggests that they were formed in different regions of the solar system and that they hide much of the history of our origins, since their formation dates back to when there was just one huge disk of debris around an emerging star, or rather the Sun. With the help of Dawn planetologists will try to answer many of the still unanswered questions on the formation of our planetary system.

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