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Well, okay, it's more like a dwarf planet, and before that, it was just a big asteroid. See the amazing shots from NASA's Dawn mission

NASA's Dawn probe captures the best shots yet of the asteroid-planet Ceres


Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Saturday, February 21, 2015, 3:25 PM - If you're in the dark about where Planet Ceres is, that's because it technically didn't exist until last decade.

Remember the big kerfuffle over Pluto losing its status as a full planet? Often lost in the bitter arguments over its reclassification to dwarf planet was the fact four other Solar System objects were upgraded to that status.

Ceres, the nice-looking planetoid in the simulation above, is the one nearest to Earth. Nestled in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, it was first spotted in 1801 and until its upgrade 2006 was simply the largest object in the belt.

Now, NASA's Dawn probe has captured the best shots yet of the tiny dwarf planet, as it prepares to enter its orbit.

Image: NASA/JPL

That shot, captured from 83,000 km away and released last week, is a taste of what's to come as Dawn prepares to rendezvous with Ceres on March 6.

It's an old hand at exploration, having spent several months analyzing the asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012 before blasting off for Ceres.

It's not an idle voyage. "Dawn" is a mission description as much as it is the probe's name, as scientists seek insight into the Solar System's origins in the asteroid belt, which is made of from debris from the system's birth.

Telescopes on Earth have already made major discoveries about Ceres. Last month, scientists found evidence of water vapour on the dwarf planet, as well as the possibility of an atmosphere.

Source: NASA/JPL | Science at NASA

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