Dawn Space Probe Reaches Dwarf Planet Ceres, Will Begin Data Collection

Ceres-Planet-Lights

Dawn space probe captures two bright lights on the surface of Ceres, a dwarf planet that is actually the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres could actually reignite discussion and debate on Pluto’s non-classification as a planet.  Pluto will be reevaluated with the New Horizons space probe.

NASA, The US space agency, is waiting for confirmation that its Dawn probe has gone into orbit around Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The Dawn space probe’s 7.5 year mission will help scientists gather data which should lend insight to the origin of our Solar System.

Over the next month, NASA will allow the probe to slowly descend into a near orbit of the Ceres, with closest approach being a few hundred kilometers over the surface.  This is the probe’s second such data gathering mission, its first being a survey of the Vesta asteroid.

NASA scientists expect Vesta and Ceres to reveal good detail about the formation of planets in the Solar System.   Dr Carol Raymond of the JPL explains,

“Both Ceres and Vesta, we believe, are proto-planets. They were on their way to forming larger planetary embryos and they were the type of object that merged to form the terrestrial planets.”

“But these two stopped before they reached that evolutionary stage, and so they are essentially these intact ‘time capsules’ from the very beginning of our Solar System; and that’s really the motivation for why Dawn is going there to explore them in detail.”

Scientists speculate that at its core, Ceres may contain water and ice and the the ‘bright lights’ on the surface may have occurred after Ceres, a dwarf planet without atmosphere, was struck by an object that released ice onto the planet’s airless surface, thus leaving highly reflective salts behind.  Those clusters of highly reflective salts would appear as bright spots on the planet.

 

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