NASA’s Dawn to reach Ceres’ orbit on Friday; 16-month investigation in tow

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is all set to rendezvous with and enter the orbit of the largest object in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter – Ceres on Friday.

The spacecraft will enter Ceres’ orbit on Friday after a three-year journey and this will mark the second stop for Dawn, which earlier visited the asteroid Vesta. During its first mission Dawn snapping over 30,000 images of Vesta providing a lot of information about it.

Dawn has been snapping images of Ceres as it nears the object and sharper images are expected in the coming months as Dawn spirals closer to Ceres’ surface.

Launched in 2007 and powered by ion propulsion, Dawn is the first craft to target two space rocks to learn about the solar system’s evolution.

With the images already taken by Dawn, scientists have already discovered things that they didn’t know of including two bright spots on the dwarf planet.

“We already knew from the Hubble Space Telescope that there were bright regions on Ceres. However, those images of the bright spots, taken more than 180 million miles away, appear to be large”, said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission.

“As Dawn has come closer to Ceres, the bright spots have become brighter and smaller. Indeed, they are much brighter than the surrounding landscape and still unresolved in our images. The point of origin must be very small.”