Jul 23, 2019 | Updated: 09:13 AM EDT

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Sends Back New Images of Ceres

May 30, 2015 03:56 PM EDT

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Detailed Image of the Surface of Ceres
(Photo : NASA)

New images have been taken of Ceres by NASA's Dawn spacecraft and they offer some of the best quality shots of the dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt.

The picture above was snapped by Dawn on May 23, at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) with a resolution of 1,600 feet (480 meters) per pixel.

"The view shows numerous secondary craters, formed by the re-impact of debris strewn from larger impact sites," NASA wrote in a post accompanying the image. "Smaller surface details like this are becoming visible with increasing clarity as Dawn spirals lower in its campaign to map Ceres."

After Dawn transmitted these latest images back to Earth, it then resumed its ion-thrusting on its way to its second mapping orbit.  On June 3, Dawn will enter this orbit and spend the month observing Ceres from just 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above its surface.  During this time, each orbit around the dwarf planet will take a bout three days, allowing the spacecraft to perform an intensive study of Ceres.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, marking the first time a spacecraft had orbited a dwarf planet.  In addition to this history making occasion, Dawn generated quite a buzz when it disovered a bright spot on the dwarf planet.  As Dawn approached closer, scientists realized it wasn't just one bright spot but a series of smaller spots reflecting light from the sun.  While Dawn has also captured more detailed images of these spots, what is causing the reflections remain a mystery to scientists.

Scientists will soon begin comparing the data from Ceres to the giant asteroid Vesta that Dawn first studies from 2011 to 2012 before departing for Ceres making it the first spacecraft to orbit multiple bodies in the solar system.

The study should offer them insights about how our solar system formed since both Ceres and Vesta, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, were on their way to becoming planets when something interrupted their development.

On top of uncovering clues about how are solar system first began its life, scientists hope to continue to learn more about Ceres itself and its bright spots that have become the talk of the scientific community since they were first seen in images sent back by Dawn.

Dawn was originally launched by NASA in September 2007 and utilizes an ion propulsion drive that has allowed it to both enter and leave the orbits of multiple bodies in our solar system.

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