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Hill-climbing Mars rover
The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has reached the summit of Husband Hill, returning a spectacular panorama from the hilltop in the vast Gusev Crater. Scientists held a news conference Sept. 1 to reveal the panorama and give an update on the twin rover mission.

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Planes track Discovery
To gain a new perspective on space shuttle Discovery's ascent and gather additional imagery for the return to flight mission, NASA dispatched a pair of high-flying WB-57 aircraft equipped with sharp video cameras in their noses.

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Rocket booster cams
When space shuttle Discovery launched its two solid-fuel booster rockets were equipped with video cameras, providing dazzling footage of separation from the external fuel tank, their free fall and splashdown in the sea.

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Discovery ferried home
Mounted atop a modified Boeing 747, space shuttle Discovery was ferried across the country from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

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Shuttle tank returned
Shuttle fuel tank ET-119 is loaded onto a barge at Kennedy Space Center for the trip back to Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank will be used in the investigation to determine why foam peeled away from Discovery's tank on STS-114 in July.

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Delta 4 launch delayed
Launch of the GOES-N weather observatory aboard a Boeing Delta 4 rocket is postponed at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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Mars probe leaves Earth
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter lifts off aboard a Lockheed Martin Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral's Complex 41.

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Launch pad demolition
Explosives topple the abandoned Complex 13 mobile service tower at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. This video was shot from the blockhouse roof at neighboring Complex 14 where John Glenn was launched in 1962.

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Asteroid may be embryonic planet harboring water ice
NASA/JPL NEWS RELEASE
Posted: September 7, 2005

Observations of 1 Ceres, the largest known asteroid, have revealed that the object may be a "mini planet," and may contain large amounts of pure water ice beneath its surface.


Hubble took these images of the asteroid 1 Ceres over a 2-hour and 20-minute span, the time it takes the Texas-sized object to complete one quarter of a rotation. The bright spot that appears in each image is a mystery. It is brighter than its surroundings. Yet it is still very dark, reflecting only a small portion of the sunlight that shines on it. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Parker (Southwest Research Institute), P. Thomas (Cornell University), and L. McFadden (University of Maryland, College Park)
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The observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope also show that Ceres shares characteristics of the rocky, terrestrial planets like Earth. Ceres' shape is almost round like Earth's, suggesting that the asteroid may have a "differentiated interior," with a rocky inner core and a thin, dusty outer crust.

"Ceres is an embryonic planet," said Lucy A. McFadden of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park and a member of the team that made the observations. "Gravitational perturbations from Jupiter billions of years ago prevented Ceres from accreting more material to become a full-fledged planet."

The finding will appear Sept. 8 in a letter to the journal Nature. The paper is led by Peter C. Thomas of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and also includes project leader Joel William Parker of the Department of Space Studies at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Ceres is approximately 580 miles (930 kilometers) across, about the size of Texas. It resides with tens of thousands of other asteroids in the main asteroid belt. Located between Mars and Jupiter, the asteroid belt probably represents primitive pieces of the solar system that never managed to accumulate into a genuine planet. Ceres comprises 25 percent of the asteroid belt's total mass. However, Pluto, our solar system's smallest planet, is 14 times more massive than Ceres.


Hubble image of Ceres, the largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt, compared with four other asteroids (Gaspra, Eros, Ida and Vesta) and Mars. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)
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The astronomers used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to study Ceres for nine hours, the time it takes the asteroid to complete a rotation. Hubble snapped 267 images of Ceres. From those snapshots, the astronomers determined that the asteroid has a nearly round body. The diameter at its equator is wider than at its poles. Computer models show that a nearly round object like Ceres has a differentiated interior, with denser material at the core and lighter minerals near the surface. All terrestrial planets have differentiated interiors. Asteroids much smaller than Ceres have not been found to have such interiors.

The astronomers suspect that water ice may be buried under the asteroid's crust because the density of Ceres is less than that of the Earth's crust, and because the surface bears spectral evidence of water-bearing minerals. They estimate that if Ceres were composed of 25 percent water, it may have more water than all the fresh water on Earth. Ceres' water, unlike Earth's, would be in the form of water ice and located in the mantle, which wraps around the asteroid's solid core.

Besides being the largest asteroid, Ceres also was the first asteroid to be discovered. Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi spotted the object in 1801. Piazzi was looking for suspected planets in a large gap between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. As more such objects were found in the same region, they became known as "asteroids" or "minor planets."



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