NASA has recently released the first picture of Ceres, the largest celestial body orbiting within the asteroid belt, taken by Dawn probe. Jet Propulsion Laboratory who supervises Dawn mission said that Ceres was 740,000 miles away from the probe when the 9 pixel photo was taken. Ceres has been previously photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope but not at such a close range.
Ceres is a dwarf planet that got first discovered more than two hundred years ago. Back then, scientists saw it as a huge object orbiting between Mars and Jupiter and didn’t know what exactly it was. At first they thought Ceres was a regular planet, but afterwards they changed out their mind and said it was one of the many asteroids in our solar system asteroid belt. Eight years ago, scientist reconsidered this idea and classified it as a dwarf planet.
Many scientists believe that Ceres will be a real game changer in our solar system understanding and exploration because it seems to hold liquid water on its surface and potentially primitive forms of life. Also, due to its round shape scientists say that it is among the first bodies to have formed within our solar system. So, they hope that the little planet (590 mile wide) will give them some answers related to early solar system evolution and other possible places where water is stored.
Britney Schmidt, one of the researchers at the Dawn Mission, said Ceres was a “gatekeeper to the history of water” in our solar system. Ceres is three times more distant than Earth from sun but it is the warmest icy planet and scientists hope that underneath its “dusty, dirty, clay-type surface” it may hold water and even have an icy ocean that was liquid at one point in its past.
Dawn probe is expected to reach the closest spot to Ceres on December 26 and is scheduled to land on the icy planet in three-month time. Next year, the spacecraft will send back on Earth photos of a much higher quality than the first photo of Ceres. Scientists are thrilled just by thinking of that.
Marc Rayman, lead researcher at NASA’s Dawn mission, said that he is content that the space agency finally has a spacecraft that is about to unveil to humans that “mysterious, alien world.
“Soon it will reveal myriad secrets Ceres has held since the dawn of the solar system,”
Also, if Dawn successfully lands on Ceres, it would be the first time a spacecraft touches a dwarf planet’s ground.