As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is inching towards the orbit of Ceres, the dwarf planet, it is beginning to capture clearer images of craters and mysterious bright spots on the surface.
As of February 12, Dawn has taken images from a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 km) from the dwarf planet, which have a resolution of 4.9 miles (7.8 kilometers) per pixel, representing the sharpest views of Ceres to date.
“As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser,” said Chris Russell, main investigator of the Dawn mission, based at UCLA. “We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”
Dawn is expected to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6 but before that it is likely to send better and clearer images and other data to help the science team at NASA to analyze the nature and composition of the dwarf planet, including the nature of the craters and bright spots that are coming into focus.
Dawn has explored the giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 and 2012 before making its way to Ceres, giving scientists insights about the geological history of it. By comparing Vesta and Ceres, they are hoping to develop a better understanding of the formation of the solar system.
Dawn’s mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.
Orbital ATK, Inc., of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft Dawn.