NASA’s first interplanetary spacecraft ran out of fuel and “died.”
Launched in 2007, Dawn traveled 6.9 billion km and was orbiting the dwarf planet when it stopped working.
NASA confirmed that the Dawn spacecraft stopped working. Attempts to contact her this week were unsuccessful and, according to astronomers, she ran out of fuel.
Dawn was in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest celestial object located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Launched in 2007 on a mission to study the great asteroid Vesta, the spacecraft was the first to orbit a body in the belt.
She left Vesta’s mission in 2012 and arrived in Ceres in 2015. With that, she became the first spacecraft to orbit two bodies outside the Earth-Moon system.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to this incredible ship, but it’s time,” said Marc Rayman, mission director and chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California, United States.
Dawn discovered bright spots in Ceres. It is believed that these were caused by salts, but could also be from some ocean. As a result, spacecraft analysis indicated that there might exist oceans on ancient dwarf planets.
Studying Vesta and Ceres, the spacecraft still showed how location is important for the formation and evolution of a planet.
“The Dawn datasets will be deeply explored by scientists working on planet growth and differentiation, when and where life could have shaped the solar system,” said Carol Raymond, a researcher.
“Ceres and Vesta are important in understanding distant planetary systems as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars.”
Dawn’s fate will not be like that of the Cassini spacecraft, which dropped deliberately on Saturn in 2017. Instead, due to planetary protection rules, the spacecraft will be left in a “parking orbit” above Ceres for at least 20 years.
The number was chosen to allow enough time for a mission to take place in Ceres before Dawn’s wreckage could contaminate the asteroid.
In all, Dawn made a journey of 6.9 billion miles in just over ten years.
The US spacecraft, Dawn, entered the orbit of Ceres, the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system, and became the first special exploration spacecraft to visit this celestial body, NASA confirmed.
After being captured by the gravity of Ceres, Dawn began the planned 16 months of exploration of the surface of this small planet in order to study its structure and gather clues that help to better understand the formation of the Solar System.
Ceres, named after the Roman goddess of agriculture, a 970-km-diameter mini-planet, is the largest object in the asteroid belt. To get an idea of its size, our Moon is 3,480 km in diameter.
Despite this, it is already proving intriguing. Photos released by Dawn show bright regions on its surface, including two points inside a crater.
Scientists suspect that Ceres may have had an underground ocean in earlier periods, which subsequently froze. The impact of asteroids or comets may have exposed highly reflective pieces of ice.