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Dawn approaches Ceres

This artist's conception shows the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres. Courtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This artist’s conception shows the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres. Courtesy NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Dawn spacecraft, after more than seven years in space, has entered the final phase of its trek to Ceres.

NASA said Wednesday that Dawn is now about 640,000 kilometers from the dwarf planet and is expected to arrive in orbit on March 6.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, with an average diameter of about 950 kilometers.

Dawn’s visit to Ceres will make it the first spacecraft ever to orbit two different celestial objects. The probe also orbited the protoplanet Vesta in 2011-2012.

Although discovered more than 200 years ago, scientists know little about Ceres. The closest dwarf planet to Earth, it may have both an ocean and an atmosphere. Ceres is so cold that water would sublimate if it wre on the surface.

NASA launched Dawn into space on Sept. 27, 2007.

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