NASA's Dawn probe will be attempting to capture the closest images taken of the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. It will begin making its final orbit above the dwarf planet where it will be collecting new images and data from a closer proximity.
Ceres is the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system and it is the largest object found in the asteroid belt.
Closest Photographs Of Ceres
Dawn's new orbit will put it less than 30 miles (50 kilometers) away from the surface of Ceres. This distance is 10 times closer than its previous orbit around the dwarf planet. Dawn will be collecting gamma ray and neutron spectra to better understand the chemical makeup of the outermost layer of Ceres.
From this vantage point, Dawn will be able to capture the closest images of Ceres it's ever taken. In order to get this close to Ceres, Dawn's operations team had to calculate its course for months prior. This will be Dawn's second extended mission and it will be powered by an ion engine.
The operations team calculated more than 45,000 possible trajectories for Dawn before settling on the final route that it will take. This route will allow the spacecraft to get the best observations of Ceres.
Dawn began orbiting Ceres in March 2015. Dawn principal investigator Carol Raymond says that the team is waiting to receive the highest-resolution images taken of the dwarf planet. This will allow them to test theories about the surface of Ceres.
Since Dawn began orbiting Ceres, it has bettered scientists' understanding about the dwarf planet. It has discovered that the Ceres has an ice volcano, contains a shiny sport that turned out to be salt deposits, and has uncovered evidence that it may be hiding a giant ocean beneath its surface.
One of the more prominent discoveries that Dawn made about Ceres was the finding of organic material on the surface of the dwarf planet. Using a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer Dawn was able to detect the organic material in the northern hemisphere of Ceres in a crater called Ernutet.
Scientists concluded that the organic molecules found are native to Ceres. Scientists believe that finding these organic materials on Ceres may be due to chemical activity on the dwarf planet. This may point to the presence of heat and water.
Observations have also pointed out that Ceres may have its own water cycle. Ceres was observed to have an increasing amount of ice on the wall of the Juling Crater. Researchers believe that this could be a result of landslides that reveal ice from behind a dusty layer. This ice is not usually hit by sunlight causing water to sublimate in the air.