'Dawn' Spacecraft Sends Back Best Ceres Pictures Yet

NASA’s ‘Dawn’ spacecraft is getting ever closer to the dwarf planet Ceres - and the pictures it’s sending back are growing more amazing by the minute.

This is the latest view of the 590 mile-wide asteroid-like mini world.

The dwarf planet is the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, 258 million miles from Earth, which contains one third of the mass of the entire belt. It is thought that the world is covered in ice beneath the dust - and Dawn will help NASA to find out for sure once it arrives in orbit on 6 March.

"Underneath this dusty, dirty, clay-type surface, we think that Ceres might be icy. It could potentially have had an ocean at one point in its history,” said Julie Castillo-Rogez, planetary scientist from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This is the previous best view, published last week:

Dawn will now deliver better images until it arrives in orbit around the dwarf planet on March 6.

"The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring."

Prior to arriving at Ceres, Dawn also orbited Vesta, the second most massive object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of around 326 miles.

“Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.