Dawn over Ceres

2015-03-07 06:45
Ceres is seen from Nasa's Dawn spacecraft just a few days before the mission achieved orbit. (Nasa, AP)

Ceres is seen from Nasa's Dawn spacecraft just a few days before the mission achieved orbit. (Nasa, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Washington - Nasa's Dawn spacecraft became the first craft to orbit a dwarf planet on Friday as it reached Ceres after a nearly eight-year, 5-billion-kilometre journey, the space agency said.

Dawn has already visited the giant asteroid Vesta, spending 14 months in 2011 and 2012 in orbit, and is the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies.

First spotted in 1801, Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

As the probe spirals closer and closer to Ceres, scientists plan to collect images and data to help determine its size and composition. It will be at its closest point to Ceres by December.

"By studying Vesta and Ceres, we will gain a better understanding of the formation of our solar system, especially the terrestrial planets and most importantly the Earth," principle investigator Carol Raymond said this week.

Of special interest are a number of "puzzling bright spots," on the surface of Ceres, Raymond said. These highly reflective spots may contain ice or salts, she said.

From start to finish the mission will cost $473m.

Nasa's previous missions - such as Pioneer 11 that launched to Saturn in 1973 - gathered data along the way from multiple extraterrestrial bodies, but did not enter orbits other than the destination planet.

Upon completion of the mission and after fuel sources run dry, the Dawn probe is likely to stay in orbit around Ceres for hundreds of years, Nasa researchers said.

Read more on:    nasa  |  us  |  space

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.