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The multi-target orbiter Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, is now approaching the dwarf planet Ceres and had recently sent high resolution images of Ceres from a distance of 46,000 km.

Ceres from 46,000km away, by DWAN spacecraft

  1. What is so interesting about Ceres that we decided to send a spacecraft to explore it?

  2. Did the fact that Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt contribute to planning a mission to Ceres instead of other bodies? Perhaps being a more feasible target to orbit due to higher gravity?

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Dawn has several mission objectives, including to continue testing the Ion Thruster. But why Ceres?

Ceres and Vesta were chosen, because they have contrasting content, one icy and one rocky. Also, they are among the protoplanets that remain intact since formation, which (hopefully) leads to a better understanding of the formation of our solar system, more specifically the different roles water and rock have.

We live in exciting times.

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    $\begingroup$ The Dawn mission objectives are all science objectives. A previous mission, DS-1, had the objective to prove out the ion propulsion technology. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Feb 26 '15 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Apologies - I can only cite wikipidea, which notes that Dawn is designed to "test the feasibility of its ion drive," - I should have phrased it better. But thanks! I'm looking into DS-1 now, how cool! $\endgroup$ – Mikey Feb 27 '15 at 6:16

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