On June 30th, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was in its current orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres when it suddenly and inexplicably shut down without warning. After a few days of talk about “glitches” and “safe mode,” NASA announced that the craft was operational but in a holding pattern. Just as suddenly, a mission expert announced that those mysterious lights on the dwarf planet’s surface that it has been saying are “ice” are not ice at all but something else. Why the sudden change? Are these two events related?
The official word on the June 30 Dawn shutdown is that the spacecraft’s software detected an unknown anomaly after firing its ion engines to move to its third orbit level closer to Ceres. The craft shut down all activities including thrusting, went into safe mode and requested further instructions from NASA. After two days, NASA announced that the software had been reconfigured and was up and running.
HOWEVER … NASA decided to keep Dawn in its current orbit until further notice, which is where it sits as of this writing. The reason given was to complete an analysis of what happened and update the flight plan.
And come up with a new story about the lights? While all of this was happening, Christopher Russell, the Dawn mission’s principal investigator, suddenly announced that his team is “shying away from there being ice on the surface.” After pushing the ice explanation ice and running a poll to reinforce it, now you’ve suddenly changed your mind? What is it?
The general consensus on the team right now is that water is definitely a factor on Ceres, but that the spots themselves are more likely to be just highly reflective salt, rather than water.
Russell claims the team failed to get the quality of measurements they wanted to prove the spots were ice or water. Is it possible that the team actually found water … and something else that they don’t want us to see? Did NASA shut down Dawn on purpose, release the “salt” story and keep it in a holding pattern until officials decide what to do about this discovery?
Or is the Dawn glitch related to the New Horizons Pluto mission glitch and NASA is trying to cover up its own problems? Could the fact that they occurred within days of another “glitch” that shut down the New York Stock Exchange mean that hackers may have expanded their horizons to Dawn and New Horizons?
What do you think?