On December 5, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory publicly released the first photo Dawn spacecraft was able to take of Ceres, a dwarf planet and largest object in the main asteroid belt that is located between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres was about 740.000 miles away from Dawn when the 9 pixel photo was taken as a calibration test of the science camera.
NASA experts say that the 590-mile- wide Ceres has a round shape because it is one of the earliest objects ever to have formed in our Solar System. It also has some water vapors around it and scientists hope it also hosts life.
Although Ceres is three times farther from Sun than Earth is, it is still able to receive sun’s warmth and be a warmer icy planet than others previously studied.
Dawn spacecraft will get close to Ceres’ orbit on December 26 and it is expected to land on it early next year. It will then also take pictures of the icy planet at a higher resolution than its first picture of Ceres . And NASA scientists can’t wait.
“Now, finally, we have a spacecraft on the verge of unveiling this mysterious, alien world. Soon it will reveal myriad secrets Ceres has held since the dawn of the solar system,”
Marc Rayman, mission director of the Dawn mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said.
Dawn probe will enter Ceres’ orbit in March 2015. It would be the first time a spacecraft lands on a dwarf planet’s surface. Till now, the best images of Ceres were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. However, early next year Dawn will send photos at a much higher quality.
Meanwhile, Dawn will first send to Earth some data on Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt, which the probe will explore before landing on Ceres.
Since 2007, when it was first launched, Dawn probe has already been nearby Vesta. Vesta is located 104 million miles away from Ceres, a distance larger than the one between the Earth and the sun. Dawn has been orbiting this giant planet for 14 months and delivered back on Earth exclusive images of its cratered surface.
Ceres was first discovered in 1801 as a huge body traveling between Jupiter and Mars. Scientists believed it was another ordinary planet, but after astronomers discovered the asteroid belt, Ceres was downgraded to a mere asteroid moving within the belt. In 2006, scientists classified it as a dwarf planet along with Jupiter.
Space experts say Ceres may have liquid water underneath its thin, dusty outer crust and host life. Also, by investigating it they hope to find more details about the early solar system and the locations that hosted water and other volatiles. Britney Schmidt, associate researcher for the Dawn Mission, said that Ceres was like the “gatekeeper to the history of water” in the middle of our solar system and a unique game-changer.