According to the report of NASA, the Dawn spacecraft began orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres at around 7:39 a.m. EST on Friday when it was captured by the gravity of the planet. With this, the Dawn also became the first spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet. Dwarf planets are celestial bodies having spherical shape and resembling small planets. However, certain technical criteria are lacking in them for which they are not classified as planets.
Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) situated in Pasadena, California, got a signal from the spacecraft which conveyed that diagnostics were healthy and that it was thrusting with its integrated ion engines. The transmission was a planned indicator which conveyed that the spacecraft has successfully achieved an orbit around the planet.
Dawn spacecraft has not only earned the credit of being the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet but it is also a part of the first mission in which a spacecraft visited two extraterrestrial targets. It first halted at Vesta, which is one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, following which it proceeded to explore Ceres. Dawn journeyed 3.1 billion miles to reach the dwarf planet. Marc Rayman, the director and chief engineer of the Dawn mission at JPL, said “Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet. Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home.”
When the spacecraft reached near Ceres it captured some of the sharpest images of the dwarf planet. The images revealed some mysterious bright spots on the surface of Ceres which significantly baffled the scientists. The first set of images was captured in January which showed the bright spots that once again became visible in the images of late February. Scientists are trying to figure out what these luminous anomalies on the surface of the Ceres could be.