Tis the season, as they say. This year is a good one for space missions with the March arrival of the Dawn spacecraft at Ceres and the July fly-by of Pluto by new horizons. Dawn made history by being the first ever spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet, and new horizons will provide the first ever pictures of the surface of Pluto in unprecedented detail. I can barely contain my excitement, after having watched the launch of New Horizons live on NASA TV in 2006. I thought about what life would be like in 2015 and what Pluto would look like, and soon I’m going to find out along with the rest of the world, in a triumph of human ingenuity and technology.
New images from Ceres are finally here, showing a colour map of the dwarf planet in striking detail. Notice the yellow area right of centre with the super-bright spot in the crater? That’s the suspected icy surface from earlier photos. The pictures reveal a heavily cratered world with a similar look to the Moon, though smaller. It’s also estimated that Ceres contains a significant amount of water ice, making up nearly 25% of its total mass.
Over the next few months, starting with the intensive science phase commencing on April 23rd, Dawn will be in low orbit around Ceres at a distance of 13,500 Km from the surface, where it will be able to study the surface in unprecedented detail.
New Horizons has snapped a quick pic of Pluto from a distance of 114 Million Km, much closer than the Earth at 5 Billion Km. The spacecraft is rapidly approaching the enigmatic dwarf planet, and better pictures will start to trickle in as we close in on the July rendezvous.