NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is due to reach the orbit of dwarf planet Ceres on March 6.
Ceres, which was originally discovered in 1801, is positioned in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and is thought to be a world covered in ice volcanoes and a frozen shell covering a mud ocean that has the potential to support life.
Over the next few months the data Dawn sends back could confirm scientists’ projections about past and current conditions as well as the chance Ceres has of holding any form of life.
Only last month evidence of water vapour and an atmosphere on Ceres was found by scientists via telescope.
After being launched in 2007, Dawn has completed mapping and observing the asteroid Vesta between 2011 and 2013, making it the first spacecraft to orbit two celestial bodies. Vesta is the second largest object in the asteroid belt and the data sent back to Earth confirmed Vesta had at one time retained water.
It is predicted that Dawn will become a perpetual satellite of Ceres once it’s mission is completed.
There are five dwarf planets currently recognised in our solar system Ceres, Pluto, Eris, Makemake and Haumea. Scientists believe there could be hundreds more waiting to be discovered.
Ceres is the first of the discovered dwarf planets to be visited and mapped.