Mark your Calendars
Science on Tap
November 7, 2013
4200 Central Ave SE
Touring the early solar system with Dawn
The NASA Dawn mission will explore the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt, the dwarf planet Ceres and the giant asteroid Vesta. Ceres and Vesta are planetary embryos, relics of the ancient solar system that provide clues about how the four innermost, rocky planets formed. Since their discovery in the 19th century, our view of asteroids has undergone dramatic change – from the missing “fifth planet” to a multitude of small bodies that are the source of most meteorites. Until recently, telescopic observations and meteorite studies were the basis of our knowledge of the asteroid belt. In 2011 and 2012, the Dawn spacecraft took a close-up look at Vesta, transforming this New-Mexico-sized asteroid from a fuzzy patch of light into a complex, geological world. Dawn’s exploration of Vesta has provided new insights into magmatic processes and impacts that shaped this igneous asteroid. In 2015, the Dawn spacecraft will arrive at Ceres, becoming the first to successively orbit and map two solar system objects. Dawn will be at Ceres when New Horizons arrives at Pluto, providing a simultaneous first look at two, icy dwarf planets. Adding to the excitement is the possibility that Ceres may harbor a subsurface, briny liquid-water ocean. Dawn’s instruments could detect surface expressions of a sub-crustal ocean, which if present may have implications for the origins of life. I’ll describe the Dawn mission, including its pre-history, genesis and development, successful exploration of Vesta and prospects for Ceres.
Image credits: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA, PSI
Tom Prettyman, Ph.D. is a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute “PSI,” a not-for-profit NASA research institute centered in Tucson. He is one of several PSI scientists working in New Mexico and is proud to call Albuquerque home. Tom’s doctorate is in Nuclear Engineering and his area of expertise is planetary remote sensing. He has experience working on NASA planetary missions, including Lunar Prospector and 2001 Mars Odyssey. He is a co-investigator of the Dawn mission to the main asteroid belt, for which he serves as the lead for the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector “GRaND,” the only US payload instrument. In addition, Tom is as an Adjunct Professor at the University of New Mexico's Institute of Meteoritics and a Fellow of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which aims to turn science fiction into reality.