It’s the closest any of us will come to seeing the dwarf planet Ceres.
A new animated video, based on images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, offers one of the most comprehensive views of this heavily cratered, mysterious world.
The video is based on observations of Ceres that were taken from Dawn’s first mapping orbit, at an altitude of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers), as well as the most recent navigational images taken from 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers).
The video combines 80 images as well as analysis of overlapping images to produce the three-dimensional detail.
“We used a three-dimensional terrain model that we had produced based on the images acquired so far,” said Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center, in Berlin. “They will become increasingly detailed as the mission progresses — with each additional orbit bringing us closer to the surface.”
Dawn entered its second mapping orbit on June 3. It will spend the rest of the month observing the dwarf planet from 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above its surface. The spacecraft will conduct intensive observations of Ceres, completing orbits of about three days each.
Launched in 2007, Dawn flew past Mars for a velocity boosting gravity assist in 2009 and entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta in July 2011. After 14 months of unprecedented exploration, the spacecraft’s ion propulsion system fired up to boost the probe out of orbit and onto icy Ceres, a 900-million-mile voyage that took two-and-a-half years to complete.
Dawn made history as the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct extraterrestrial targets.