Fresh imagery from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal the icy dwarf planet Ceres in new detail, showing surface features coming into focus as the probe nears insertion into orbit for a comprehensive survey of the unexplored world.
The pictures taken Wednesday are the sharpest images ever taken of Ceres, with a resolution of 8.5 miles, or 14 kilometers.
Dawn took the images at a distance of about 90,000 miles from Ceres as the spacecraft zooms toward a rendezvous with the dwarf planet in the next few months.
Ceres spans 590 miles across, and scientists believe it is likely covered in a crust of ice. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Dawn will survey Ceres from a series of different altitudes, measuring the world’s composition, internal structure, and surface characteristics.
Launched from Earth in September 2007, Dawn is approaching its second destination after orbiting asteroid Vesta, where it collected 30,000 images from July 2011 to September 2012, when it started a nearly three-year journey to Ceres.
Driven by an electrically-powered ion propulsion system, Dawn is set to be captured by the gravitational tug of Ceres on March 6. After arcing out in front of Ceres, the spacecraft will drop into the first in a series of survey orbits 8,400 miles from the Texas-sized world by April 23.
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