Dawn Spacecraft is Approaching Dwarf Planet Ceres
February 13, 2015
On January 27, 2015, NASA released the sharpest picture of dwarf planet Ceres that orbits the Sun at about 2.77 AU (414 million kilometers).
Dawn was launched on September 27, 2007 by NASA from Cape Canaveral to visit and to study two objects – Vesta and Ceres – that are locat
ed in the Asteroid Belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn reached Vesta (the second most massive object of the Asteroid Belt after Ceres) on July 16, 2011, after a flyby of planet Mars in 2009. It is now expected that Dawn will reach Ceres and be put into orbit around March 6, 2015.
We know very little about dwarf planets, but this mission will allow scientists to collect information about them. The most famous dwarf planet we know, Pluto, is located so far in the Solar System (around 39 AU away from the Sun) that it takes a lot of time to get information about it. This is why the Dawn mission has targeted Ceres, the closest dwarf planet from Earth, to answer questions scientists ask about these particular objects.
It is thought that Ceres contains a large reservoir of water in the form of ice on its surface, and maybe as underground oceans beneath its crust. Water vapor has been detected around Ceres, and scientists think that the water could come either from its surface or from its underground.
Dawn’s arrival at Ceres will mark the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a dwarf planet, before New Horizons spacecraft that will reach Pluto in July this year.
Series of images taken by Dawn at 145,000km from the dwarf planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI