NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has caught incredible images of its target dwarf planet, Ceres.
The dwarf planet, which lies in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 950 km.
Scientists believe the small planet contains a large amount of ice. But several other scientists think the surface of the planet conceals an ocean.
Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, “We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that.”
The new photographs caught by the cameras installed on the Dawn spacecraft show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels resolution across, nearly three times better than the calibration photos that were taken in early December.
The outstanding photographs of Ceres so far were caught by the NASA’s advanced Hubble Space Telescope in the years 2003 and 2004.
These latest photographs, which offer about 80 percent of Hubble resolution, was taken by Dawn on January 13.
According to the NASA scientists, Dawn will capture many more images of the dwarf planet over the next several weeks that are increasingly better.
The spacecraft will capture into orbit around the dwarf planet on March 6.
The scientists said that Ceres’ images will keep on improving as the spacecraft went closer to the planet’s surface during its 16-month long study.
Project leader Andreas Nathues, for the camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Gottingen-based Solar System Research, said, “Already, the latest images hint at first surface structures such as craters.”
The arrival of Dawn at Ceres’ surface will mark the first ever landing of any spacecraft on a dwarf planet.
The Dawn spacecraft has already sent over 30,000 photographs and many close insights about the second most giant body, named Vesta, in the asteroid belt.