NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has just sent home a new photo, a much closer look at the famous bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. Compared to the previous images taken from higher orbits, significantly more details can be seen in this new photo of the Occator crater.

The composite photo below was created using two images: one short exposure photo that captures the details in the bright spots, and one captured at normal exposure, where the background surface is not underexposed. Dawn took these images during the mission’s High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) phase, from an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The resolution of this photo is about 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel:


It’s still unclear what those bright areas in the crater are; we are waiting for scientists to come up with some explanation. As Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director says:

Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape. Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery.

This new view is likely going to help identify those spots, as it’s roughly three times better than the latest images. This animation I quickly made helps show the significant difference: