Science & Environment

Dwarf planet Ceres gets bigger in Dawn's viewfinder

Ceres Image copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Image caption The new images of Ceres were taken on 4 February from a distance of about 145,000km

The American space agency's (Nasa) Dawn satellite has just returned its latest images of Ceres.

The probe is bearing down on the dwarf planet, and expects to go into orbit around the 950km-wide body on 6 March.

With every pixel representing 14km on the surface, these pictures are the best view yet of Ceres.

Dawn is scheduled to spend 16 months studying the dwarf, which happens also to be the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Scientists are fascinated by the bright spot in the northern hemisphere. The Hubble Space Telescope could discern this feature, too, but exactly what it is remains to be determined.

The most likely explanation right now is that it is some kind of impact crater. Time will tell.

Ceres is the first dwarf planet to be visited by a spacecraft.

The second dwarf to get a visit will be Pluto. It will receive a flyby from Nasa's New Horizons probe in July.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

More on this story