Here’s the closest ever look at dwarf planet Ceres

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NASA’s spacecraft Dawn is on its way to Ceres and as we anticipate clearer images over the course of next few months, scientists at UCLA have released new images of the dwarf planet, which provide us with the closest ever look at the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Captured by Dawn from a distance of just 2,700 miles above Ceres’ surface, the images and a one-minute video animation produced by NASA provides never-before-seen view of this mysterious and heavily cratered world.

Christopher Russell, a UCLA professor of space physics and planetary science, and the Dawn mission’s principal investigator said that everything scientists are learning about Ceres is absolutely new and that the information being collected is awe-inspiring.

Prior to its visit to Ceres, Dawn has been busy observing and analysing the second most massive body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter – Vesta – from July 2011 to September 2012. Scientists have learned a lot about the conditions at the beginning of the solar system by studying meteorites from Vesta that have fallen to Earth.

Dawn’s Ceres mission began on March 6 and is scheduled to last more than a year. Researchers have pegged Ceres and Vesta as two completely different bodies as there have been no records of any meteorites produced by Ceres.

One major difference between Vesta and Ceres is that researchers found no evidence of water on Vesta; however, researchers including Russell are of the opinion that Ceres could have a substantial amount of water or ice beneath its rocky crust.

The presence of water, he said, could ‘affect the time for relaxation of craters and mountains on Ceres and reduce the height of the topography compared to Vesta, and will affect minerals on the surface.’ Russell also said Ceres, unlike Vesta, might have a weak atmosphere and perhaps even life.

As Dawn closes-in on Ceres, scientists are expecting a lot more insight on the dwarf planet’s shape, size, composition, internal structure, and tectonic and thermal evolution. The findings also should provide new understanding about the conditions under which Ceres and Vesta were formed.