By Marc Rayman
As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft makes its journey to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres, Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, shares a monthly update on the mission’s progress.
This graphic shows the planned trek of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from its launch in 2007 through its arrival at the dwarf planet Ceres in early 2015. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Gliding smoothly through the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Dawn continues to make good progress on its ambitious mission of exploration. It is patiently but persistently pursuing Ceres, the second destination on its interplanetary itinerary.
Protoplanets Ceres and Vesta, the two most massive residents of the asteroid belt, were discovered at the beginning of the 19th century, and they have tantalized astronomers and others curious about the nature of the universe ever since. (Indeed, Ceres was the first dwarf planet discovered, having been found 129 years before Pluto.) They have waited patiently for a visitor from Earth since the dawn of the solar system. Dawn’s objective is to turn these uncharted orbs from tiny smudges of light amidst the stars into richly detailed places. It succeeded spectacularly at Vesta in 2011 ...