NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is about to reach the dwarf planet Ceres. On Friday, the spacecraft will enter orbit around Ceres after a three-year journey through space. Ceres marks the second stop for Dawn, after a 2011 visit to Vesta – another large object in the asteroid belt.
Back in 2011 and 2012, Dawn snapped more than 30,000 images of Vesta. Check out a couple images of Vesta below. NASA’s Dawn page has hundreds more. We should see similar resolution images of Ceres in the coming months.
Ceres, and its bright spots, have captured the imaginations of astronomy fans everywhere. What are they? Where do they come from? Those are just a few of the questions Dawn’s team hopes to answer as Dawn’s mapping mission gets started on Friday.
Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, talked about these bright spots in a recent press release.
“We already knew from the Hubble Space Telescope that there were bright regions on Ceres. However, those images of the bright spots, taken more than 180 million miles away, appear to be large.”
Russell adds, “As Dawn has come closer to Ceres, the bright spots have become brighter and smaller. Indeed, they are much brighter than the surrounding landscape and still unresolved in our images. The point of origin must be very small.”
“And since I don’t have a clue what this is I am puzzled,” Russell says.
The best images from Dawn won’t come until the end of this year, during its lowest altitude orbit passes. During this time, Dawn’s images will be 800 times better than the Hubble’s.
“Earth is about to be introduced to a fascinating new world,” says Dawn’s mission director Marc Rayman.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be holding a briefing to talk about Dawn’s March 6 arrival to Ceres at 9 am PST (noon EST) today. Here’s the NASA TV and Ustream link if you’re interested.