NASA has released an animated video of the dwarf planet Ceres. The video is based on images taken by the Dawn spacecraft during a mapping orbit at an altitude of 8,400 miles, as well as navigational images taken from 3,200 miles. The video included data from 80 different images, giving us a unique view of a cratered and unknown celestial object.
Dawn became the first spacecraft to visit Ceres when it arrived at the dwarf planet back in March. Dawn entered its new orbit of Ceres on Wednesday and will fly around the dwarf planet eight times, taking a little over three days to complete each revolution.
Dawn has an ultra-efficient xenon-fueled ion propulsion system that propels it around Ceres. The ion thrusters also enabled Dawn to visit Vesta, a protoplanet in the solar system’s main asteroid belt, back in 2011 and 2012. That trip to Vesta and its current venture near Ceres made Dawn the first probe to orbit celestial bodies in our solar system outside of Earth’s moon.
At the end of June, Dawn will move onto an even lower orbit, a “high-altitude mapping orbit” that will be just 900 miles above Ceres for two more months of detailed mapping. A Dawn team member of the German Aerospace Center says the images Dawn produces “will become increasingly detailed as the mission progresses – with each additional orbit bringing us closer to the surface.”
Dawn’s final orbit will be just 232 miles above Ceres. The spacecraft’s mission taking images of Ceres will last until the middle of next year. Between now and then, NASA should be able to create even more detailed videos of the dwarf planet Ceres than the one released today.