Dawn gets a stunning look at Ceres’ North Pole

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has spent more than a month now orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, and it has now captured its first views of the north pole on the mysterious giant asteroid.

The images, taken April 10 21,000 miles away from the dwarf, are the highest-resolution views of Ceres yet and show the north pole lit up by the sun, according to a Space Daily report.

Dawn will get much higher resolution images of Ceres in later images, which will show the surface features in increasingly better detail.

Dawn first arrived on March 6 after a long journey to one of the biggest non-planet rocks in our solar system after exploring another giant asteroid, Vesta, for 14 months from 2011 to 2012, making Dawn the only spacecraft to orbit two different extraterrestrial bodies.

Ceres is about 590 miles in diameter, making it the biggest asteroid by far in the main asteroid belt that sits between Mars and Jupiter.

Dawn still has a lot of work to do: its first science orbit is scheduled to begin tomorrow around Ceres, when it will do the more in-depth scientific research. It will stay about 8,400 miles from the surface of the planet until May 9, when it will head to even lower orbits.

The Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007 with the purpose of studying Vesta and Ceres, two of the three known protoplanets in the asteroid belt. It’s not the only spacecraft that will be exploring a dwarf planet in these coming months: New Horizons is on its way to fly by former planet Pluto later this year.

Dawn will remain in orbit around Ceres perpetually after its main mission is over. It is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.