The Dawn mission as almost completely mapped the surface of dwarf planet Ceres at a resolution of 35 meters (120 feet) per pixel – far surpassing the original objective of imaging 80% percent of Ceres’ surface at a resolution of 200 meters (660 feet) per pixel.
From the Dawn Blog:
“Since April 11, instead of photographing the scenery directly beneath it, Dawn has been aiming its camera to the left and forward as it orbits and Ceres rotates. By May 25, it will have mapped most of the globe from that angle. Then it will start all over once more, looking instead to the right and forward from May 27 through July 10. The different perspectives on the terrain make stereo views, which scientists can combine to bring out the full three dimensionality of the alien world.”
Dawn is using its gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) to reveal the atomic composition of Ceres’ crust to a depth of about a meter. Researchers have gathered three times as much GRaND data as they had required, and instruments in the detector will continue to collect data, achieving a longer exposure time, and revealing a sharper nuclear picture of Ceres.
Tracking the Dawn probe via radio signals, researchers have been able to chart Ceres’ gravitational field at at accuracy twice what they had anticipated. As with the GRaND, gravitational measurements are continuing.
From the Dawn Blog:
“Dawn has dramatically overachieved in acquiring spectra at both visible and infrared wavelengths. We have previously delved into how these measurements reveal the minerals on the ground and what some of the interesting discoveries are. Having already acquired more than seven times as many visible spectra and 21 times as many infrared spectra as originally called for, the spacecraft is adding to its riches with additional measurements.”
Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn Mission, told New Scientist that the Dawn spacecraft could visit a third object in the asteroid belt, but would not name that object until a mission extension was approved by NASA. A post on Reddit suggests: “Out of its original budget of 425 kilograms of Xenon propellant for its ion engine, 275 kg was allocated to reaching Vesta and 110 kg for reaching Ceres, leaving some 40 kg of Xenon unallocated.”
I’m all for it! #DawnThirdTimesTheCharm