After six months of curiosity among the space scientists, NASA mission Dawn has entered the orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres successfully on Friday night and the first signal confirming it came at 13:36 GMT.
It took more than seven years for Dawn to travel to Ceres, the largest target in our solar system that is forming into planet between Mars and Jupiter and provide a glance at how the planets are formed, including the Earth about four and a half billion years ago.
However, the spacecraft entered the dark side of Ceres and NASA says it may take another month for the mission to be brought to the brighter side where it can reflect the light of the Sun for clear high resolution pictures. Scientists said the orbit of dawn will be lowered further in late April so it could be just a few hundred kilometres above the Ceres surface.
“We feel exhilarated,” said Chris Russell, the mission’s principal investigator from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “We have much to do over the next year and a half, but we are now on station with ample reserves, and a robust plan to obtain our science objectives.”
Prio to its visit to Ceres, the Dawn mission covered Vesta, an asteroid about 950 km in distance from the dwarf planet with. Vesta, with 525km, gave out initial glance at the asteroid formation and features.
Carol Raymond, the mission’s investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told BBC: “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.”
Now the the biggest question before scientists is to explain the two very bright spots seen inside a 92km-wide crater in the Northern Hemisphere of Ceres that has raised many eye-brows. The speculation is that they could be deep ice regions reflecting Sun’s light.
The Dawn will send signals for about 14 months before running out of its fuel.