Remember a few months ago when excitement was high about seeing the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres for the first time with the Dawn spacecraft? Remember when the pictures were simple and blurry and looked more like a conspiracy theorist’s UFO pictures than another celestial body? Remember when I wrote about how cool it will be when we become the first humans in history, and the first form of life to ever see the surface of this object? The lead up to the Ceres encounter is well summed up in the NASA video from right before the encounter.
I really love the way this video shows the orbital mechanics of the encounter. Keep your eye on the rocket and when it fires in the video, it shows how the rocket needs to accelerate into orbit. Because of the low powered Ion rocket that Dawn has, it had to make a very interesting orbital twist to slow down enough to be captured by Ceres’ gravity. After a few initial tests, the Dawn spacecraft went in for a closer look and a high resolution surface mapping of Ceres.
Some craters of Ceres have remained untouched for Billions of years, sitting there and simply existing for all those years as life on Earth slowly developed and evolved into a form and a level of consciousness that could truly appreciate the beauty and truth it can unlock. Each encounter gives us a new piece of a giant, ancient puzzle about the origins of the solar system and subsequently the origins of every human alive today. Its the exploration of space, and missions like this, that drive our ingenuity. Those deepest questions within us – Where did we come from? How did it all happen? Why are we here?
We will get another piece of the great puzzle in a few weeks time when New Horizons passes by Pluto. It won’t provide any definitive answers to those great questions, but like every other mission it helps us to eliminate possibilities and zero in on truth.