NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took several new images earlier this month. In the images, which have been stitched together to form a GIF, you can see what appears to be craters on the icy dwarf planet’s surface.
The bright feature in the top left immediately jumps out. “Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters,” says Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team.
While the images are good, they are not the best resolution ever taken. That belongs to images taken in 2003 and 2004 by the Hubble Space Telescope. These latest images equal about 80% of Hubble’s resolution. Dawn’s images will surpass Hubble quality over the next few weeks as the spacecraft gets closer to Ceres.
On March 6th, Dawn will enter orbit around Ceres. It will be the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a dwarf planet.
“We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director.
Ceres is the largest body in the prominent asteroid belt separating Mars and Jupiter. The dwarf planet has an average diameter of 590 miles and is believed to contain a large amount of ice. Some scientists even believe Ceres could have an ocean beneath its surface.
Dawn’s mission will hopefully shed some light on the ocean theories. At the very least, it will give scientists a look at Ceres like never before seen.
“We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring,” says Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission.
Ceres will be Dawn’s second destination. It studied Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt, back in 2011 and 2012. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles. Dawn’s ion propulsion system made it possible for the spacecraft to head to Ceres after wrapping up its mission near Vesta.
Here’s an image Dawn took of Vesta back in 2011. We can expect similar quality images of Ceres once Dawn reaches orbit.
Image credits: NASA/JPL