Science News

Dawn Spacecraft Orbits Ceres After 3.1 Billion Mile Journey

Dawn Spacecraft Ceres Orbit

The Dawn spacecraft became the first spacecraft to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet, Ceres, when it was captured by the planet’s gravity at approximately 7:39 a.m. EST on Friday, according to a press release published by NASA on March 6, 2015.

Dwarf planets are spherically-shaped celestial bodies resembling small planets, but lacking certain technical criteria required for classification as a planet.

At 8:36 a.m., mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) located in Pasadena, California received a signal from Dawn conveying that diagnostics were healthy and that it was thrusting with its integrated ion engines. This transmission was the planned indicator conveying that a successful orbit around the planet had been achieved.

Not only is it the first spacecraft to ever visit a dwarf planet, it’s also part of the first mission, the Dawn mission, to orbit not one, but two extraterrestrial targets. In its nearly decade-long mission, the research vessel first stopped at Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, before it moved on to explore Ceres.

Marc Rayman, the director and chief engineer of the Dawn mission at JPL, was quoted in the NASA release as having said that the spaceship now calls Ceres “home” after its 3.1 billion mile journey.

Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet […] Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home.

IGN reports that Dawn’s last leg of the journey entails the exploration of the largest unexplored world in the inner solar system.

In other space science coverage here on Immortal News, a short-circuit disabled the Mars-exploring Curiosity rover’s arm and NASA unveiled plans for a robotic submarine that could be used to explore Saturn’s Titan moon.

When the ship reached Ceres, it captured the sharpest images ever taken of the dwarf planet. The images left scientists baffled by the mysterious bright spot seen in the images. That was after analysis of the January images and then late February, it happened again. Only this time, the second bright spot could be seen alongside the first.

What do you think this luminous anomalies spotted on Ceres by the Dawn spacecraft could be?

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