After almost 8 years of space trekking , Dawn, NASA’s unmanned spacecraft, has entered the orbit around dwarf planet Ceres on Friday. As well as the first time a spacecraft has orbited two different celestial bodies during its mission, this is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet
Vesta, the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, was where Dawn spent more than a year at and has now reached its final destination which is Ceres. Comparing the asteroid and the dwarf planet, NASA scientists will be able to gain insights about the structure of all the objects in the asteroid belt, the evolution of Ceres and the history of the whole solar system.
Dawn was captured by Ceres’ gravity at 7:39 a.m. EST, when it was nearly 38,000 miles out, according to NASA. Dawn is on the dark side of the planet and will remain there for about a month. Its next set of images will be captured on April 10 and will start its first intensive science observations April 23.
Joe Makowski , Dawn’s program manager at Orbital ATK said, “The first body that we visited, Vesta, was what we expected — very dry, basically rocky and heavily cratered, and probably pretty much intact in that fashion for billions of years. Ceres is in the same asteroid belt, but it’s very different. It’s very large — almost twice the diameter of Vesta — and it contains a lot of water. Visiting both will enable us to understand why one ended up so dry and one has so much water, and in turn how they developed and why they’re so different.”
Designed and built by Orbital ATK, in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dawn relies on ion propulsion. Dawn has used only 10% of the fuel that a spacecraft with a traditional combustion engine would use. Since its launch in 2007,