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NASA spacecraft Dawn reaches dwarf planet Ceres after 7-year journey

The event marks NASA reaching one of the last unexplored planets in the solar system.

By Thor Benson
NASA spacecraft Dawn reaches dwarf planet Ceres after 7-year journey
This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres, the most massive body in the asteroid belt. Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet -- a round body that orbits the sun but, unlike a planet, does not clear its orbital path of other objects. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- After more than seven years traveling, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has reached Ceres.

"NASA's Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet's gravity," the space agency said in a statement.

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Beyond being the first to orbit a dwarf planet, the spacecraft is also the first to orbit two extraterrestrial targets, NASA stated. It also orbited the giant asteroid Vesta, in the space between Mars and Jupiter, from 2011 to 2012.

"Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet," said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home."

Dawn will now be able to solve the mystery of two bright lights recently noticed to be shining on Ceres, as well as using data from Ceres and Vesta to gain knowledge on the formation of the asteroid belt.

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