NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has captured new, closer-than-ever views of the dwarf planet Ceres, and it is a mysterious world to look at.
The probe recently spiraled down to a new orbit about 915 miles from the dwarf planet’s surface. Photos from Dawn released Tuesday show new details of Ceres’ surface features, like craters and the world’s odd conical mountain that stretches about 4 miles high, NASA said.
“The spacecraft’s view is now three times as sharp as in its previous mapping orbit, revealing exciting new details of this intriguing dwarf planet,” Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, said in a statement.
The new images don’t reveal anything new about the bright, reflective patches spotted by Dawn in craters on Ceres; however, the new images do show bright streaks on the sides of the cone-shaped mountain next to a crater on the dwarf planet.
Dawn should be able to map the entire surface of Ceres — the largest object in the main belt of asteroids between Jupiter and Mars — six times in the next two months, according to NASA, and it won’t stop there.
The spacecraft is gathering data about Ceres’ gravity, which should allow it to move safely to its lowest orbit, about 230 miles from the surface of the dwarf world, in October.
Dawn became the first spacecraft to study Ceres from close range when it arrived at the dwarf planet in March. Before making it to Ceres, Dawn studied the asteroid Vesta, which is also located in the asteroid belt, making it the first spacecraft to orbit two distinct solar system bodies.