Dawn arrived into orbit at Ceres on March 6, 2015, and continues to collect data about the mysterious and fascinating world. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
When Dawn launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in September 2007, strapped on a Delta II-Heavy rocket, scientists and engineers had an idea of what Ceres and Vesta looked like. Thanks to ground- and space-based telescopes, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter were visible – but even the best pictures were fuzzy.
From 2011 to 2012, Dawn swept over Vesta, capturing images that exceeded everyone’s imaginings – craters, canyons and even mountains. Then on Ceres in 2015, Dawn showed us a cryovolcano and mysterious bright spots, which scientists later found might be salt deposits produced by the exposure of briny liquid from Ceres’ interior. Through Dawn’s eyes, these bright spots were especially stunning, glowing like diamonds scattered across the dwarf planet’s surface.
“Dawn’s legacy is that it explored two of the last uncharted worlds in the inner Solar System,” says Marc Rayman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, United States, who serves as Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer. “Dawn has shown ...