The first glimpse of Ceres has been delivered by Dawn Spacecraft.
The image sent back from the Dawn Spacecraft is only 9 pixels wide, and it is the first truest image seen of the dwarf planet.
Ceres is the largest body in the main asteroid belt, which exists between Mars and Jupiter. The 590 miles wide Ceres is composed of rock and ice. It is the largest asteroid and the only dwarf planet in our Solar System. It was discovered in 1801 by Italian astronomer, Giuseppe Piazzi. At first Ceres was assumed to be a planet. Only later it was rightfully deemed to be an asteroid and happens to be the first ever discovered asteroid. Ceres rotates once every 9 hours 4 minutes in a west to east direction.
Dawn took the image of the asteroid 740,000 miles away from the planet. The picture was taken on 1st December. It’s a calibration image. A long exposure was used so that the stars could be seen and Ceres would be exposed. The spacecraft is expected to arrive near the asteroid in spring next year.
Ceres is an interesting object of our solar system. It isn’t just made up of rocky core, but known to have an icy mantle. It may have liquid water under its surface. This year in January, water vapor emissions were detected from several regions of Ceres. This is not common to asteroids, as large bodies in asteroid belts do not typically emit vapor. That is how comets behave.
The Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 to study Ceres and Vesta, which is also a large asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn has already spent close to a year studying Vesta, and then moved towards Ceres. Dawn has a highly efficient engine with low thrust, which allows it to travel at pretty good speeds.
“Now, finally, we have a spacecraft on the verge of unveiling this mysterious, alien world,” said Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director of the Dawn mission, in a news release. “Soon it will reveal myriad secretes Ceres has held since the dawn of the solar system.”
Dawn is expected to arrive at Ceres in March or April next year. Astronomers expect to get more detailed images then from the spacecraft.