NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has beamed back a stunning new picture of Ceres. The image shows the dwarf planet’s bright, sunlit north pole. NASA’s probe reached Ceres on March 6. But it spent over a month on the dark side of the dwarf planet, so no images were captured. Now it has offered us the sharpest ever look at Ceres. The probe will send clearer images in coming weeks, NASA said in a statement.
Dawn to be closest to Ceres on May 9
The animated image shows Ceres’ cratered north polar region. The probe captured these images on April 10 from a distance of 21,000 miles. Dawn has been steadily moving towards the celestial body for more than two years after orbiting an asteroid called Vesta for 14 months. Ceres is only about 590 miles wide body, but we are going to witness some surprisingly complex findings as Dawn continues its mission.
Dawn is slowly moving closer to Ceres, a Texas-sized proto-planet. When it settles into the orbit of Ceres, Dawn will be at an altitude of just 233 miles from the dwarf planet’s surface. The project’s ultimate goal is to capture 3D images and create a high-resolution map of Ceres. On April 23, the probe will enter its first orbit at 8,400 miles above the surface to collect data. It will move even closer on May 9, said NASA.
NASA’s $473 million mission to test theories about Ceres
So, we can expect to get a better look at Ceres’ mysterious white spots that have puzzled astronomers. Researchers believe that Ceres is a water-rich planetary “embryo” formed at the dawn of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago. NASA’s $473 million mission will help test existing theories about the dwarf planet. Ceres travels at about 250 million miles from the Sun, and takes 4.61 Earth years to complete one orbit.
Ceres was the first object to be discovered in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Discovered by Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801, it was initially believed to be a planet. It was later downgraded to an asteroid before being upgraded to the status of a dwarf planet in 2006.