The dwarf planet Ceres has been imaged like never before by the Dawn spacecraft orbiting the icy body. The north pole of the object is clearly detailed by the first-of-its-kind spacecraft currently in orbit around Ceres.

The image was captured on April 10 as the spacecraft traveled from the shadow of Ceres into the light. Taken from a distance of 21,000 miles, this is the highest-resolution picture ever taken of the dwarf planet.

Dawn became the first spacecraft ever to orbit a dwarf planet when the observatory reached Ceres on March 6.

Additional images containing even more detail will be taken over the next few months as Dawn draws closer to the miniature globe.

"Dawn has been using its ion propulsion system to maneuver to its first science orbit at Ceres, which it will reach on April 23. The spacecraft will remain at a distance of 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) from the dwarf planet until May 9. Afterward, it will make its way to lower orbits," Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports.

On the way to Ceres, Dawn also visited the asteroid Vesta, circling around the object for 14 months, from 2011 to 2012. Upon reaching its primary target, Dawn became the first spacecraft to orbit around two extraterrestrial bodies.

Ceres is the largest member of the belt of objects traveling around the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. This body has a diameter of about 590 miles, roughly 27 percent that of the Earth's moon. If all the millions of objects in the asteroid belt were lumped together, Ceres would make up one-third of the total mass.

Ceres was discovered on the first day of the 19th century, Jan. 1, 1801, by Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi. At first, the scientist believed he had discovered a new planet, but later investigation revealed additional bodies in the same orbit, which later became known as the asteroid belt. Astronomers believe this object is differentiated into an icy mantle layered over a rocky core. The surface is thought to consist of a mixture of water, ice, clay and other materials.

The Dawn spacecraft, launched in September 2007, utilizes an ion propulsion drive to maneuver in space. The $446 million dollar mission is the first of its kind, and could lay the groundwork for future missions to other dwarf planets. However, a visit to another dwarf planet will come this summer, when the New Horizons spacecraft is due to make a close encounter with the most famous of these bodies, Pluto, on July 14.

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