NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has captured the brightest image of Ceres yet, which also shows the dwarf planet’s sunlit north pole.
Ceres’ cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by Dawn on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the dwarf planet that Dawn has taken since entering Ceres’ orbit on March 6.
NASA stated that the images were captured on April 10 as the spacecraft traveled from the shadow of Ceres into the light. NASA also added that the images were taken from a distance of 21,000 miles, which are the highest-resolution pictures ever taken of the dwarf planet.
Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007, and it aims to better characterize the solar system’s early days by studying Ceres and Vesta, which are the two intact protoplanets that are the largest denizens of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe spent 14 months at the 330-mile-wide (530 km) Vesta in 2011 and 2012. After studying Vesta it headed to Ceres.
Dawn will study Ceres for the next 14 months, mapping and measuring the cratered world from a series of successively closer-in orbits until June 2016. That is when its fuel will run out and the mission will come to an end. NASA also hopes that Dawn Spacecraft will also lay the groundwork for future missions to other dwarf planets.
Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which was discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi, on 1 January 1801. It lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is composed of rock and ice, is 590 miles in diameter, and comprises approximately one third of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System and the only object in the asteroid belt known to be unambiguously rounded by its own gravity.