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Dawn first to orbit dwarf planet
06 Mar 2015 16:04
The space probe Dawn has begun orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres on a voyage of discovery into the solar system's main asteroid belt, NASA has said.
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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.
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The space probe was captured by the dwarf planet's gravity at 12.39pm Irish time, about 61,000km from Ceres's surface.
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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.
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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.
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Ceres' gravity captured @NASA_Dawn at about 7:39am ET this morning. Learn about #Ceres: http://t.co/pc3j6A9TAD pic.twitter.com/t7tb2Qkk6h</p>— NASA (@NASA) March 6, 2015 <p>"Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9bn km) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home," said Dawn chief engineer Marc Rayman, who is also mission director at JPL.
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Ceres is the largest known object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
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The dwarf planet, which has an average diameter of 590 miles, makes a full rotation every nine hours, and NASA is hoping for a wealth of data once the spacecraft's orbit begins.
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