Dawn spacecraft mission to Ceres could help explain origins of our solar system

Mar 5, 2015

The dwarf planet Ceres as seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft.
Credit NASA

A former Cal Poly professor is among the lead team members as NASA prepares to enter a historic orbit Friday morning of a dwarf planet. 

The Dawn spacecraft launched in 2007 is studying the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe Ceres was on its way to becoming a full-sized planet... but had its development interrupted by Jupiter's gravity.

Professor Timothy Weise taught Spacecraft System Design at Cal Poly and is the deputy mission manager. He says the information gained from Dawn's study of Ceres and previously of an asteroid named Vesta could be very revealing.

"We'll be able to compare these two massive bodies that really are proto-planets that kind of hold the building blocks of the Solar System when it formed," said Weise. "So really these are like looking at fossils of the Solar System and being able to figure out, how mainly the inner-planets formed, so kind of the origin of the Earth."

Ceres is smaller than our moon but large enough to have developed a spherical shape over time because of its gravity.