Mar 06, 2015 03:59 PM EST
After more than seven years of drifting in space, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has finally achieved its primary mission of entering orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. Becoming the first ever mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet, mission controllers with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory received confirmation this morning that the small orbiter had finally reached its destination.
Though the Dawn spacecraft has made a few pit-stops along the way, such as visiting the giant asteroid Vesta in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, mission researchers are eager to begin their investigation of Ceres and discovery the answers to many mysteries that have plagued astronomers since the dwarf planet was originally discovered in 1801.
"Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet" Dawn chief engineer and mission director at JPL, Marc Rayman says. "Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home."
Though researchers have not yet begun to download image and research data from the orbiter, mission controllers with JPL received a signal from the Dawn spacecraft at 5:36am PST this morning, indicating that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, which tells researchers that Dawn has entered orbit according to plan.
In recent weeks, as Dawn has approached Ceres, giving researchers and even closer view at the far-off dwarf planet, many astronomers have posited even more questions that the orbiter will have to investigate. Namely, the most pressing concern for the researchers is the discovery of what two beaming lights coming from the surface may be. Many researchers have theorized that it may be exposed ice or minerals reflecting sunlight back at the orbiter, but a detailed analysis should reveal exactly what it might be.
NASA will host a media teleconference this afternoon to discuss the historic arrival and the plans that the agency has for the Dawn spacecraft now that it has arrived to Ceres. The keynote speakers are expected to be Jim Green, Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, and Carol Raymond, Dawn Mission Deputy Principal Investigator with JPL.
Want to get in on the action and join the teleconference? It will be streamed HERE, so be sure to tune in!
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