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Dwarf planet Ceres captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft

01/20/2015 11:08 EST | Updated 03/22/2015 05:59 EDT
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has begun capturing photos of the dwarf planet Ceres that will help it make the first visit to our solar system's biggest asteroid in March.

Dawn is scheduled to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6, and become the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet.

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The photos released by NASA on Monday will be used by Dawn for navigation as it approaches Ceres.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the only asteroid known to be round.

On average, Ceres is about 950 kilometres in diameter — roughly the width of Hudson Bay and less than half the diameter of Pluto.

The new images are blurry – not quite as sharp or high-resolution as those previously taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

But they hint at structures such as craters, said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the spacecraft's framing camera team, in a statement. The team is based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany.

Scientists think Ceres contains large amounts of ice and some think there may even be an ocean beneath its surface.

NASA says Dawn's next set of images, due at the end of January, will surpass Hubble's resolution.

Ceres is the smallest of the three confirmed dwarf planets in the solar system, after Eris and Pluto.

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