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A NASA probe is approaching a dwarf planet, and the space agency is super excited

Launched in 2007, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will reach the dwarf planet Ceres on Friday.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 3, 2015   Updated on May 29, 2021, 9:58 am CDT

NASA is getting excited that its Dawn spacecraft is about to enter orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.

The most intriguing aspect of this mission is the mysterious nature of two bright spots on Ceres’ surface, which scientists hope will be explained once Dawn has gathered more data. The bright spots are in a crater where the Herschel Space Observatory previously detected water vapor, meaning the lights may be patches of reflective ice.

With Dawn scheduled to enter orbit on Friday, NASA has released a video explaining the mission so far and explaining how Ceres’ findings could teach us more about the origins of the solar system.

NASA will be able to confirm Dawn’s orbit sometime on Friday morning. The satellite will spend the next month on the dark side of Ceres, meaning it won’t be able to send back any useful images for a while.

Dawn’s mission is to spend 14 months collecting information about the dwarf planet, but it may remain in orbit long after its objectives are complete. Like many long-distance unmanned spacecraft, it will remain in use until its power finally runs out.

Photo via NASA/Wikimedia Commons (PD)

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*First Published: Mar 3, 2015, 10:48 am CST