NASA’s Dawn spacecraft which is approaching Ceres has sent back the most detailed images of the Dwarf Planet.
Ceres, which has an average diameter of 590 miles, is the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres was considered as an asteroid in the past. But in 2006, the International Astronomical Union formed a new class of solar system objects known as dwarf planets. By definition a dwarf planet is spherical and travels in an orbit around the Sun. Since Ceres fit that definition perfectly, it is now termed as a dwarf planet.
According to NASA, the photos of Ceres were taken on January 13, but were released this week. The images show Dawn’s view of Ceres from a distance of 238,000 miles, at 27 pixels across, which is about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December.
Marc Rayman, the chief engineer for NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, said, “We’re going to reveal the fascinating details of a giant world of rock and ice. It’s not like we’re just going out to visit a chunk of rock the size of one of those mountains. Ceres has 38 percent of the area of the continental United States. It’s actually the largest body between the sun and Pluto that a spacecraft has not yet visited.”
The scientists at the Planetary Science Institute are now analyzing the images to understand the surface of Ceres. They have claimed that they have found the albedo characteristics of Ceres.
Albedo is the fraction of solar energy (shortwave radiation) reflected from the surface back into space. On Earth, it is a measure of the reflectivity of the earth’s surface. Ice, especially with snow on top of it, has a high albedo: most sunlight hitting the surface bounces back towards space.
NASA have stated that the mission is expected to continue for 16 months and the space agency have said that the images will continue to get better as Dawn gets closer to Ceres. The spacecraft will eventually reach Ceres’ orbit on March 6. It will be the first time the spacecraft has visited a dwarf planet.