It’s more than a month since the rendezvous of NASA’s DAWN spacecraft reaching the gravitational orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres between Jupiter and Mars happened.
NASA said the spacecraft has performed flawlessly, continuing to thrust with its ion engine as planned and that all its computer systems and observation instruments are in excellent health, despite the fact that the spacecraft is still on the dark side of Ceres, or the side facing away from the sun.
After Dawn entered Ceres entered orbit on March 6, the spacecraft’s momentum carried it to a higher altitude, reaching a maximum of 46,800 miles (75,400 km) on March 18. As of April 6, Dawn was about 26,000 miles (42,000 km) above Ceres, descending further to reach its designated orbit above 8,400 miles (13,500 km), said NASA.
The Dawn spacecraft will begin sending next series of images of Ceres on April 10 and April 14, and NASA expects the images to reveal a slightly larger crescent of Ceres throwing up greater details about the dwarf planet.
The next phase will begin from April 23 when the spacecraft will start its intensive prime science campaign exploring the mysterious bright spots that have captured the imaginations of scientists and space enthusiasts alike.
While these bright spots will not be visible in April 10 and 14 images, certainly they should come within the range of the spacecraft’s optical vision by May 9 when it completes the science campaign, says NASA.
After May 9, Dawn will spiral down to a further lower orbit to observe Ceres from a closer vantage point and that is when NASA scientists expect to unravel all the mysteries about the birght spots and atmospheric evolution on the dwarf planet.
Before entering the Ceres orbit, the DAWN spacecraft explored the giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months, from 2011 to 2012, capturing stunning images and sending data about the celestial body.