NASA’s tractor-trailer sized Dawn spacecraft will snuggle up to Ceres on Friday, getting close enough to be pulled into orbit and to complete the first mission to a dwarf planet.
“I’m just delighted that Dawn is now on the doorstep of Ceres,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division said in a news conference on Monday.
Ceres was discovered in 1801 (Pluto wasn’t found until 1930) and was the first object found in our solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s about 310 million miles from Earth and was initially classified as planet, then later demoted to an asteroid, only to be reclassified again as a dwarf planet.
The early images from Dawn already have mission scientists excited.
“Ceres has really surprised us,” said Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator. “The first images have produced some really puzzling features.”