NASA Captures First Clear Images Of Ceres From Dawn Spacecraft, More Mysterious Bright Spots [Photo]

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft has captured the clearest images to date of the dwarf planet Ceres. However, the images only deepen the mystery surrounding the tiny planet.

According to NASA, the images of the dwarf planet Ceres captured on February 12, 2015 by the Dawn Spacecraft are the clearest images of the tiny planet to date. The images were taken from approximately 52,000 miles away and have a resolution of have a resolution of 4.9 miles per pixel. This makes the newest photos the sharpest images of the mysterious planet.

Clearest images of Ceres
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn Spacecraft will make it into orbit around Ceres on March 6. At that point, NASA scientists will be able to obtain extremely detailed images of the planet. However, until then, scientists are extremely baffled by a lot of what they are seeing. Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, says that they expected to be “surprised,” but did not expect to be so “puzzled” by what they are seeing.

“As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser. We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”

If you compare the concept photo in the header with the actual photo secured by Dawn, you can see some of the puzzling aspects of Ceres. This includes mysterious bright lights dotting the planet, and large craters seen on the south end of the dwarf planet that are significantly larger than previously thought. National Geographic notes that Ceres is especially important for scientists to understand because of its unusual structure for the asteroid belt.

“Watery and relatively huge, Ceres is wildly out of place in the asteroid belt, a stretch of space between Mars and Jupiter that’s mostly populated by smaller, dustier space rocks. Some scientists think that’s because Ceres was born somewhere else, while others suggest it might have grown up at a slightly different time. Dawn will help unravel the mystery of Ceres by comparing it with another relative giant in the asteroid belt: dry and dusty Vesta, which Dawn orbited from mid-2011 through late 2012.”

Ceres will provide never-before-seen images of the dawn of our own solar system.

“These worlds contain clues not only about the solar system’s birth 4.5 billion years ago, but also about a tumultuous reorganization that took place hundreds of millions of years later.”

What do you expect to see in the Dawn Spacecraft images of Ceres as the spacecraft gets closer to the dwarf planet?