The Dawn spacecraft has done it: it is now taking the highest-resolution images of the dwarf planet Ceres that have ever been seen. Not only is this new image better than the historic Hubble Space Telescope image, but every new release will be better than the one before until it arrives in orbit this March.
Top image: This is the most detailed view of dwarf planet Ceres we've ever seen. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The Dawn spacecraft crossed the Hubble-threshold, sneaking close enough to the largest body in the main asteroid belt to produce the highest-resolution images ever captured. The groundbreaking images were taken when the craft was 237,000 kilometers (147,000 miles) from Ceres on January 25th.
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An animation of the latest, greatest images of Ceres. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The new images aren't just a little bit better than the 2004 Hubble shots: at 43 pixels wide, the new images represent a 30% increase in resolution over anything we've ever seen before.
Along with the enigmatic white spot, these latest images reveal more detailed dark mottling suggestive of craters. Given that the dwarf planet is within the asteroid belt and lacks the gravitational umph to clear its orbit and earn unrestricted "planet" classification, cratering is entirely expected, but uncovering greater detail will allow us to better understand both past and present conditions in the asteroid belt.
Ceres imaged on January 25, 2015, from 237,000 kilometers away by the Dawn spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
I am so excited for this blurry little smear of pixilated shadows and light, it isn't even slightly dignified. Yet another of our beloved robotic explorers are descending on a new world, sending home the photographs of their discoveries for us to puzzle over. What mysteries will Ceres hold? How will it live up to our expectations? What strange new features will leave us baffled and rethinking our understanding of how landforms are created?
Read more at the JPL Dawn site.