Dawn begins transitioning to its fourth and final mapping orbit
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has begun the process of transferring to its fourth and final mapping orbit, as it continues its mission around the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn initially made orbit around Ceres on Mar. 6, and since then has provided us with increasingly detailed images and data, unlocking many of the mysteries harbored by the enigmatic celestial body.
Dawn engaged one of itsthree identical ion thrusters on Oct. 23. in the first of a series of maneuvers that will insert the spacecraft in to its final orbit, alsoknown as the low-Altitude mapping orbit (LAMO), in December.
LAMO will take Dawn towithin 235 miles (380 km) of Ceres' surface, allowing the probe tocapture images of the dwarf planet at a resolutionof around 120 feet (35 m) per pixel.
Despite having spentover seven months around Ceres, Dawn has yet to shed light on some of themost vexing riddles posed by the dwarf planet. Among the current listof mysteries is the cause and composition of the strange white spotsthat mark the planet's surface, and the formation of the unusuallonely peak situated on the southern hemisphere, that looms 4 miles(6 km) above the surrounding terrain.
Dawn's new orbit willundoubtedly provide new insights and stunning imagery of Ceres. According toNASA, LAMO is set to continue until Jun. 30, 2016. Once Dawn hasexhausted its supply of hydrazine fuel, the then innert spacecraft will continueto orbit Ceres for roughly 50 years before its orbitdecays enough for it to smash into the dwarf planet's surface.