According to Space Flight Insider, Dawn was launched back in September of 2007 on top of the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex 17-B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Dawn’s mission is to explore the asteroid belt and help unlock the secrets of the early solar system. Researchers had two specific targets picked out for the probe: an asteroid named Vesta and a dwarf planet named Ceres. On December 1, 2014, the first images of Ceres were captured by the spacecraft’s cameras.
The Space Flight Insider notes that the payload of Dawn consists of two cameras, a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, capable of revealing surface minerals, as well as a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer to categorize the elements that comprise the outer portion of the asteroids. Dawn will also take measurements of the gravity field, and is expected to reveal details of the interiors of both Vesta and Ceres.
NBC News reports that the first image of Ceres is only nine pixels wide, but does show that Ceres is most certainly round and true to form. The pale, blocky image is the first taken by Dawn, and was captured from 740,000 miles away. Ceres is only 590-miles-wide by comparison. The photo was taken simply to calibrate Dawn’s camera, so it is certainly not the best photo that Dawn will capture in the coming days. In fact, we can expect as detailed images as the one’s gained of Vesta when the mission is complete.
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