NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft launched 7 years ago will be orbiting two alien objects in space and by the end of the week will be the first to investigate a dwarf planet. Their stay is not going to be short-lived, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi during a news conference said, “We’re planning to move in and stay.”
Dawn has the ability to enter and exit any planetary orbit, thanks to its unique ion propulsion system. It had earlier visited Vesta, a large asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta is rocky and has burned off many of its lighter elements only to become more dry. Ceres, on the other hand, has ice and water vapour. Scientists want to compare the two to be able to come down to a conclusion about the formation of the early solar system.
“Dawn [the mission name] is not an acronym, which is most unusual here at NASA,” Jim Green, director of planetary science for NASA. “It really refers to what this mission is all about, which is going back in time.”
The earlier shared news about the two bright spots visible on Ceres is another reason why the NASA scientists want to check on Ceres.
In its first month in the orbit Dawn will be in blackout mode on the dark side of the planet. First scientific readings will begin in the late April. Later, Dawn will switch between taking readings and making controlled spirals closer to the dwarf planet. In December, Dawn will be close to Ceres at less than 250 miles above the surface of Ceres.