This Friday, the US space probe “Dawn” is reached after years of traveling the dwarf planet Ceres and swings into orbit. By June 2016, the probe will observe the celestial bodies.

The countdown is on: After a period of eight years and a traveled distance of five billion kilometers, the US space probe Dawn has almost reached its goal. Next Thursday of 1.6 meters is long and swivel 747 kg heavy missiles in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. By June next year to “Dawn” (English for Dawn) explore the largest celestial body of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. For this purpose, it is approaching Vesta’s surface up to 375 kilometers.

The arrival will however run quite spectacular. Since “Dawn” is at this time on the opposite side of the Earth from Ceres, there is no radio contact. The first signal that the probe has reached the orbit more than 500 million kilometers from the Earth safely, scientists from the American space agency Nasa expect on Friday night.




In images of the surface, NASA scientists have to do without first of all. “Dawn” will be on the dark side of Ceres and therefore can shoot any reasonable photos. “It was not until the middle of April then begins our scientific observation phase, and then the floodgates are open,” said NASA manager Robert Mase at a press conference.

In Sauseschritt to the asteroid belt
“Dawn” was started after many delays, on 27 September 2007 from the spaceport Cape Canaveral in Florida from aboard a Delta II rocket into space. Only four years later, equipped with an ion engine spacecraft has achieved its first goal in the asteroid belt, the asteroid Vesta. The celestial body discovered more than 200 years ago, has a diameter of only about 500 kilometers and is the brightest asteroid in our solar system. More than a year circled “Dawn” the object of stone and ice before NASA probe in early September 2012 on their next destination, Ceres, departed.

The researchers expect that the dwarf planet as Vesta was born in the early phase of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, has no fixed rocky crust, but a layer of ice that surrounds a rocky core. It is thought even that under the ice of Ceres could exist water. Even in the approach phase towards the 950 km large celestial body “Dawn” has been able to make some unusual observations.

Especially a bright spot on the surface has attracted the interest of NASA scientists. Maybe it is feature exposed ice that sunlight reflected. What it is exactly the scientists involved in the mission hope to learn in the coming weeks.

On board of “Dawn” is a high-resolution camera system that was developed under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen. Even after June 2016, the amount equivalent to approximately 420 million euro expensive mission could possibly go on, Robert Mase said. “Depending on how long the fuel ranges, we certainly have a few months.”