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The NASA spacecraft Dawn became the first man made object to go into orbit around a dwarf planet this month. Ceres holds that distinction, along with Pluto, but Ceres is a lot closer and easier to get to. This wasn’t Dawn’s first visit to a celestial body; it stopped off at the giant asteroid Vesta on it’s way to Ceres, spending from 2011 to 2012 there and sending back a ton of data. The other thing I find exciting about this mission is that Dawn is flying using an Ion Engine, allowing it to do really long range sustained controlled flight. The Ion Engine technology is going to help open up the outer Solar System to the kinds of exploration you just can’t do when your flight is based on gravity assist orbital changes alone.

Dawn Mission: Multimedia >Ceres Awaits Dawn.