LOS ANGELES - After a nearly eight-year journey, a NASA spacecraft on Friday flawlessly slipped into orbit around Ceres in the first visit to a dwarf planet.
The robotic Dawn craft will circle the dwarf planet for more than a year, exploring its surface and unraveling its mysteries.
"It went exactly the way we expected. Dawn gently, elegantly slid into Ceres' gravitational embrace," said Marc Rayman, chief engineer for the $473 million mission managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Ceres is the second and final stop for Dawn, which launched in 2007 on a voyage to the main asteroid belt, a zone between Mars and Jupiter that's littered with rocky leftovers from the formation of the sun and planets 41/2 billion years ago.
Dawn will spend 16 months photographing the icy surface. It previously spent a year at Vesta exploring the asteroid and sending back stunning close-ups of its lumpy surface before cruising onto Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt.