Today, NASA released their first ever animated video featuring dwarf planet Ceres. The video is composed of 80 images that were taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft during its orbit of the dwarf planet a few months ago. The images were mostly culled from an altitude of about 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers), with a few navigational shots taken from 3,200 miles (5,100 km) away.
We used a three-dimensional terrain model that we had produced based on the images acquired so far. They will become increasingly detailed as the mission progresses, with each additional orbit bringing us closer to the surface.Ralf Jaumann, of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin
Okay, so what’s the big deal about dwarf planet Ceres?
Launched in 2007, the $466 million Dawn mission was sent to study the two largest objects, Vesta and Ceres, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists are eager to learn more about Ceres and Vesta because they were formed during the solar system’s period of planetary formation. Considered planetary building blocks, Ceres and Vesta are providing scientists clues into how the Earth itself was formed and about the early history of our solar system.
According to space.com, “dwarf planet Ceres is about 590 miles (950 km) wide, while Vesta measures about 330 miles (530 km) across.”
Dwarf planet Ceres also made headlines when Dawn discovered two mysterious spots nestled inside one of Ceres’ craters. Although several competing theories abound — from icy plumes, reflections from the to assumptions about docking alien spacecraft (umm…no) — scientists are still hoping to gather more data before they can draw any definitive conclusions. Fortunately, Dawn just entered into its second orbit of dwarf planet Ceres on June 3, where it will stay through the end of the month. Dawn is expected to end its mission sometime in June 2016.