NASA's Dawn spacecraft has captured the sharpest image yet of the dwarf planet Ceres. The picture was snapped at a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 km), as the probe readies itself for orbital insertion slated for March 6.
Since its launch in 2007, Dawn has undertaken an epic voyage of scientific discovery. Over the course of its journey the spacecraft has been powered by twin solar arrays, which when fully extended give the spacecraft an impressive wingspan of 19.7 meters (64.6 ft). In its current position, Dawn has traveled around 1.7 billion miles under the power of its three ion thrusters (with a little help coming in the form of a gravity assist from Jupiter), a cutting-edge form of propulsion that accelerates ion molecules to create forward momentum.
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The newest image of the dwarf planet brings into sharp focus the plethora of craters that pockmark the surface of the ancient body, as well as a series of brighter spots that have left the team baffled. With a resolution of 4.9 miles (7.8 km) per pixel, the shot represents the most detailed image of Ceres taken to date.
It is hoped that by comparing observations made by Dawn of the asteroid Vesta, and the upcoming survey of Ceres, that the spacecraft will be instrumental in shedding light on the formative period of our solar system.