The Dawn space probe made history on March 6 by becoming the first space probe to travel to and orbit the dwarf planet, Ceres. Ceres is part of an asteroid belt, located between Jupiter and Mars, that is comprised of a series of large objects floating in space. Scientist believe that the celestial body was once very active, although they are not certain of the type of activity that took place on the planet.
Mysterious Bright Spots On Ceres Uncovered By The Dawn Space Probe
The Dawn space probe, launched in 2007, is a fairly new spacecraft that will eventually allow for the more efficient usage of satellites. At the moment, scientists are still conducting research on the bright spots discovered on Ceres’ surface, as they cannot be accurately identified as geysers, chunks of ice, or something else of similar nature. Furthermore, the space probe remains at least 14,000 miles away from the planet, so no clear images have been obtained quite yet.
Beginning April 23, Dawn will spend around 21 days orbiting Ceres. The probe is expected to capture over 2,500 images of the dwarf planet during this time. Around May 9, the spacecraft will begin to move closer to the planet, which is surrounded by an atmosphere of water vapor. This fact has lead to another study that examined whether or not asteroids were the reason for water on earth. Although research has yet to prove anything, the bright spots that were found on Ceres might also link back to water.
Dawn’s Examination Of Vesta
On its way to Ceres, Dawn also examined the second largest planet in the asteroid belt, Vesta. Researchers hope that the data will shed light on the early evolution of what could be part of our solar system. They have already created a color image map of the images taken thus far and are looking forward to obtaining higher quality pictures as Dawn nears closer to the orbit of the planet. From a distance, Ceres shows up as a merely gray planet.
The Dawn space probe is expected to be within the orbit of the dwarf planet until sometime in June of 2016. Then, it will continue its travel into space. By waiting that long, scientist will be able to obtain more high-resolution images and examine any changes that may occur on the planet within that time frame. In this way, they hope to obtain a better understanding about the habitability of the planet, and also whether or not the water source is anything like that found on earth.
What is it like to view Earth from space? We may never get the chance to find out, but flight brings us high enough to get an idea: