As far as space endeavors go, the test flight of next-generation spacecraft Orion has dominated news out of NASA as of late. However, the Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, is seven years deep into its mission and has recently transmitted images of one of its targets – a dwarf planet named Ceres – back to Earth. Researchers hope the probe continues its successful trek to reach the planet and produce new insight into the two notable entities in the solar system.
Dawn was propelled into space aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2007, and using ion propulsion, ws intended to reach the asteroid belt, according to Space Flight Insider. This week, NASA released a 9-pixel image of a dwarf planet called Ceres taken 740,000 miles away. The mission controllers consider this image a “final calibration” before Dawn starts its approach to the planet on Dec. 26.
The Dawn probe is the ninth Discovery mission in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and the first to “orbit an object in the main asteroid belt as well as orbit two separate objects within the asteroid belt,” Space Flight Insider reported.
Dawn’s scientific instruments will measure gravity field and examine the two planetary bodies’ composition. The probe, which is powered via two solar panels, each 65 feet wide, has two cameras and a gamma ray and neuron spectometer to categorize elements.
Dawn flew by Mars on on Feb. 17, 2009, and arrived to Vesta on July 15, 2011, departing on Sept. 4, 2012. The probe gained “unprecedented scientific insights” from the asteroid, capturing surface images and providing scientists with “clues about its geological history,” Space Flight Insider reported.