“The Dawn mission was designed to study two large bodies in the asteroid belt in order to answer questions about the formation of the Solar System, as well as to test the performance of its ion drive in deep space. Ceres and Vesta were chosen as two contrasting protoplanets, the first one apparently “wet” (i.e. icy and cold) and the other “dry” (i.e. rocky), whose accretion was terminated by the formation of Jupiter. The two bodies provide a bridge in scientific understanding between the formation of rocky planets and the icy bodies of the Solar System, and under what conditions a rocky planet can hold water.
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) adopted a new definition of planet on August 24, 2006, which introduced the term “dwarf planet” for ellipsoidal worlds that were too small to qualify for planetary status by “clearing their orbital neighborhood” of other orbiting matter. Dawn is the first mission to study a dwarf planet, arriving at Ceres a few months before the arrival of the New Horizons probe at Pluto in July 2015.
Ceres comprises a third of the total mass of the asteroid belt. Its spectral characteristics suggest a composition ...