The US space probe Dawn began orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres Friday on a voyage of discovery into the solar system’s main asteroid belt, NASA said Friday.
The probe — the first to orbit a dwarf planet — will stay over the mysterious body for 16 months to study its structure and gather clues to help mankind better understand how the planets were created.
The space probe was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at 1239 GMT, some 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres’s surface.
About an hour later, it sent a signal to mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to say it was “healthy and thrusting with its ion engine,” the space agency said in a statement.
When it was discovered in 1801, Ceres was classified as a planet, only to be reclassified later as an asteroid and then a dwarf planet.
“Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres home,” said Dawn chief engineer Marc Rayman, who is also mission director at JPL.
The dwarf planet, which has an average diameter of 590 miles, was first spotted by Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi.
It makes a full rotation every nine hours, and NASA is hoping for a wealth of data to begin pouring in as the spacecraft orbits Ceres.
“We feel exhilarated,” said Dawn principal investigator Chris Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles.
“We have much to do over the next year and a half, but we are now on station with ample reserves, and a robust plan to obtain our science objectives.”
– Two bright spots –
Around April or May, the probe will start to move in closer to make a first full assessment of the planet, and by November will be as near as 230 miles from Ceres’s surface.
Scientists will be looking for signs of geologic activity via changes in two bright spots on the planet, or other features on Ceres’ surface over time.
The mission will also help to better understand the origins of the solar system and the possibility of life (in the form of micro-organisms) on Ceres.
“Studying Ceres allows us to do historical research in space, opening a window into the earliest chapter in the history of our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA?s Planetary Science Division.
“Data returned from Dawn could contribute significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the solar system formed.”
The last images of Ceres were taken in March, and show a slim silver crescent, with most of the dwarf planet shrouded in darkness. But NASA scientists hope to capture sharper images during the mission once Dawn emerges from the planet’s dark side.
Though this is the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet, Dawn explored the giant Vesta asteroid in 2011 and 2012. It gathered information and thousands of images before it set off for the years-long journey to Ceres.
Ceres and Vesta are the two largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Launched in 2007, the $473 million Dawn mission is equipped with a high definition camera and two spectrometers. It is outfitted with an ion propulsion engine that allows it to reach high speeds and also make a slow approach to drop into orbit.
The US space agency has also set its sights on Pluto, and in 2006 launched the New Horizons spacecraft to study the dwarf planet.
Next year, the US space agency plans to launch its Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft, to “study a large asteroid in unprecedented detail and return samples to Earth,” NASA has said.
Ocasio-Cortez blasts her NYC mayor for ‘making excuses’ for NYPD violence against protesters
The youngest woman ever elected to Congress ripped her city's mayor on Saturday for "making excuses" for New York Police Department actions.
In videos that circulated widely on social media, NYPD cruisers can be seen driving into pedestrian protesters.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) blasted New York City Mayor de Blasio for defending the NYPD.
On Twitter, she told the mayor, "your comments tonight were unacceptable."
‘Light ’em up’: Police open fire on people filming them from their front porch
Video reportedly taken from the Wittier neighborhood of Minneapolis on Saturday shows authorities shooting projectiles upon people filming them from a front porch.
On Friday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed a curfew on the city, but his emergency order did not apply to citizens' homes or front porches.
Yet a video posted on Twitter shows a Minnesota National Guard humvee rolling down residential streets, followed by a group of police.
"Look at this, they just keep coming," a woman is heard saying as the camera shows the police.
"Go inside. Get inside," the police shouted.
‘They just fired on us’: Horrifying videos of cops ‘using journalists for target practice’ in Minneapolis
Journalists covering the protests in Minneapolis reported on being targeted by police on Saturday.
Multiple reports -- including live coverage on CNN -- showed police firing rubber bullets at journalists.
It’s open season on the media for the cops in Minneapolis. Evil. https://t.co/ZR3Nnf9ofH
— Nick Stellini (@StelliniTweets) May 31, 2020