US space agency NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has became the first probe mission to achieve orbit around any dwarf planet last week when it was successfully captured by the gravity of Ceres at 4:39 am PST (7:39 am EST) on Friday.
Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a released statement, “Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres has been known as a planet, but later it came to be known as an asteroid and later a dwarf planet… Now, after the completion of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years journey, Dawn calls Ceres, a home.”
NASA’s Dawn probe mission on Ceres will allow the space scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) “to look back in time to see how the terrestrial planets are put together,” according to US space agency’s Planetary Science Division director Jim Green.
The last leg of Dawn spacecraft to the biggest unexplored world in the inner solar system revealed some inexplicable surprises that have baffled scientists for long.
In January, the Dawn spotted mysterious bright point that was the sharpest images ever captured by the spacecraft. In February again, the scientists spotted another unexplainable bright spot in the images sent by Dawn that resided alongside the first luminous point.
The scientists said that we’ll have to wait little longer until middle of April for gaining closer insight of the mysterious regions of the dwarf planet as Dawn’s trajectory is forcing it to swing around Ceres’ dark side. The first science orbit is likely to be carried on April 23 with an altitude of 8,400 miles above the dwarf planet, and the final orbit will be 230 miles above its surface.
Expressing excitement over the development, Dawn mission’s principal investigator Chris Russell, said, “We have much to do over the next year and a half, but we are now on station with ample reserves, and a robust plan to obtain our science objectives.”
The orbiting by the Dawn spacecraft around Ceres makes it the first ever mission to successfully orbit two extraterrestrial objects. The spacecraft earlier revealed valuable facts about Vesta, the second largest body after Ceres in the asteroid belt located between Jupiter and Mars, from 2011 to 2012.