Catch up with Dawn, the massive spaceship exploring the asteroid belt


It would be hard invent a plus Star wars-esque spaceship as Dawn. It’s 65 feet from end to end. He’s exploring the asteroid belt. And he’s got an ionic drive, for Pete’s sake.

But Dawn also has serious work to do. Launched in 2007, it investigates Ceres and Vesta, two mysterious protoplanets located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These are really ancient little bodies, remnants of the early solar system (protoplanets being bodies that formed very early, some of which turned into actual planets like the one you are sitting on) with many secrets to reveal, secrets that Dawn has unraveled in her hand.

Why choose these objects, among all the objects of the solar system? Because understanding what makes them vibrate will give scientists insight into the formation of real asteroids, protoplanets, and planets. And what they discover is exhilarating. They explored a massive impact on Vesta, who threw heaps of materials into space. And on Ceres, they observed a cryovolcano that spits out brine instead of lava. Water, of course, is an essential ingredient for life.

Dawn only got where he is because of his ion drive, which, unlike a conventional engine, actually sends electricity through the xenon fuel, releasing ions. These propel the spacecraft, but only very weakly. Regardless, Dawn has been accelerating for five and a half years in the vacuum of space. This allowed the spacecraft to change its speed by 25,000 miles per hour.

So, ten years after leaving the comfort of Earth, we are checking out Dawn. Check out the video above to see where Dawn has been, where she’s going, and the tantalizing discoveries she’s made along the way.


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