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Dawn Arrives at Dawn at Ceres

9/03/2015

​Dwarf planet Ceres as seen from "Dawn".  Note the two mystery bright spots.

Say what?  On 6th March 2015, the NASA space probe “Dawn” arrived at the dwarf planet Ceres, approaching from its “dark-side”.  Dawn was launched on the 27th Sept, 2007 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  Dawn’s mission is to explore the protoplanets of the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter: minor-planet Vesta and the dwarf-planet Ceres.   

Dawn arrived at Vesta mid July 2011, surveying the minor-planet for around 14 months.  Using Vesta’s gravitational assistance, Dawn departed from Vesta in late 2012 and continued on to Ceres.  Dawn is the first space probe to visit two protoplanets, orbit a dwarf planet and orbit two separate extraterrestrial bodies.  
Dawn’s mission is to shed light on the early developments of our solar system, determine the composition and nature of how the early terrestrial planets formed and to piece together what factors determined the formation sequence for these two contrasting protoplanets.
Of interest is the two bright spots next to each other on the surface of Ceres.  The camera on-board Dawn does not have the resolution at its current distance to make any sense of what they are.  Last year the ESA’s Herschel telescope detected water vapour coming from two sectors on the surface of Ceres.  Guess we will just have to wait and find out.