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Dawn probe falls silent, ending mission to Ceres

Dawn's view of Ceres
This photo of Ceres and the bright regions in Occator Crater was one of the last views NASA’s Dawn spacecraft transmitted before it completed its mission. This view, which faces south, was captured on Sept. 1 from an altitude of 2,340 miles as the spacecraft was ascending in its elliptical orbit. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA Photo)

Dawn is dead, but Dawn is not gone: Today NASA said that the Dawn spacecraft has fallen out of contact with Earth, presumably because it’s run out of the thruster fuel that was used to keep its antennas oriented toward Earth and its power-generating solar panels oriented toward the sun.

After Dawn missed out on communications sessions on Wednesday and today, NASA declared an end to the mission.

During its 11 years in space, Dawn sent back unprecedented closeups of the asteroid Vesta as well as Ceres, which is the largest known asteroid and the smallest confirmed dwarf planet.

Dawn will continue circling Ceres for decades to come in the main asteroid belt, 257 million miles out from the sun.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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