NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres, which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn is currently 400,000 miles from the object and is approaching at 450 miles per hour. Ceres was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi in the start of 19th century and is about 590 miles in diameter.
Despite the early discover, not very much is known about Ceres and it still remains mystery for many researchers. When the Dawn arrives, it would provide important first look at the object. Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said that we are confident that first revelations about Ceres would surprise us.
Researchers know that Ceres and Vesta are very different objects, with Ceres formed much later than Vesta. Ceres doesn’t have meteorites linked to it, unlike Vesta, to help reveal its secrets. While Vesta has very little water, researchers estimate presence of subsurface oceans on Ceres.
Ceres is projected to have a rocky core and icy mantle. Water vapor emissions were detected coming from dwarf planet Ceres in January 2014. The discovery was significant and surprising as objects in the asteroid belt haven’t shown to emit vapor previously. Such phenomenon is limited to comets which travel through space and hence experience temperature differences.
In light of present evidences, scientists believe the presence of liquid water between the core and the mantle of Ceres and Dawn is expected to provide significant insight into this domain.
NASA’s Dawn carries three scientific instruments, including a visible camera, a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. The space agency is expecting to study the gravity field of the objects which could provide important information on the internal structures of the objects.
The Dawn spacecraft is expected to go into orbit around Ceres in March 2015.