Dawn gets first look at Ceres' north pole

The spacecraft is in the process of establishing its first science orbit.
By Andrew McDonald | Apr 17, 2015
According to a NASA statement, the agency's Dawn spacecraft has taken several images of sunlight striking the north pole of Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, around which Dawn is currently orbiting. Ceres is approximately 590 miles across.

Since entering orbit of Ceres on March 6, Dawn has been on the dark side of the dwarf planet. The new photographs were captured by the spacecraft's framing camera on April 10, when Dawn was about 21,000 miles away. The haunting images show Ceres as a shadowy crescent, with a bright patch of sunlight glancing off its north pole.

Although the new images are the highest-resolution photos of Ceres yet taken, Dawn's future images will reveal the surface of Ceres in ever greater detail. Since arriving at Ceres, Dawn's ion propulsion system has been easing the probe into its first orbit for scientific operations. This orbit, which Dawn will attain on April 23 and remain in until May 9, will keep the probe around 8,400 miles from the surface. After May 9, Dawn will maneuver into lower oribts.

Ceres is actually Dawn's second destination. For 14 months during 2011 and 2012, the probe orbited the huge asteroid Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt. Dawn's arrival at Ceres made it the first spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to establish orbits around two different extraterrestrial bodies.

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