NASA probe orbits potentially life-harboring planet
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around Ceres at 7:39 am EST this morning. And this is big news, as the icy dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter is potentially life-harboring, containing elements like carbon and hydrogen (the ingredients necessary to make organic molecules), sunlight, and warm radioactive elements in its core. The planet seems even more promising as isn’t engulfed in any other planet’s magnetic field, which generates harmful radiation. But while ice is prevalent, the presence of non-frozen water remains yet to be determined.
Over the next several months, Dawn will fly within 233 miles of Ceres’s surface. By late April, the spacecraft will be sending pictures and data to NASA to begin mapping the surface of Ceres, analyzing the chemical composition, and making the most accurate measurements of the planet’s mass.
Andy Rivkin, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory notes, “This is just the first mission to Ceres. I don’t think it’ll be the last.”