Ceres in Motion: JPL Video Shows Mysterious Dwarf Planet

An amazing new video lets viewers fly over and around the dwarf planet Ceres, getting a great look at its heavily cratered surface.

The new Ceres video, which NASA released Tuesday, was created using 80 images captured by the space agency's Dawn spacecraft. Some photos were taken from Dawn's first mapping orbit of the dwarf planet, which lay at an altitude of about 8,400 miles, while others are navigational shots snapped from 3,200 miles away, NASA officials said.

"We used a three-dimensional terrain model that we had produced based on the images acquired so far," Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann, of the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, said in a statement. "They will become increasingly detailed as the mission progresses, with each additional orbit bringing us closer to the surface."

Dawn's observations should help scientists better understand how Earth and other rocky worlds were put together and reveal other insights about the solar system's early days (hence the mission's name), NASA officials have said.

Dawn orbited Vesta from July 2011 through September 2012 and arrived at Ceres this past March. Dawn reached its second Ceres science orbit — which lies 2,700 miles above the dwarf planet's surface — on June 3 and will stay there through the end of the month. The probe will then spiral down to orbits with altitudes of 900 miles and 230 miles, respectively, before ending its mission in June 2016.

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