NASA's Dawn Closes in on Dwarf Planet Ceres

PHOTO: This processed image, taken on Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. Dawns framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles from Ceres.IDA/DLR/MPS/UCLA/JPL-Caltech/NASA
This processed image, taken on Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles from Ceres.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is closing in on the dwarf planet Ceres and the space agency today released new photos showing what the gigantic cosmic mass looks like up close.

Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has an average diameter of 590 miles. The images released today are relatively grainy compared to the power of the Hubble Telescope, however they will be used to help guide Dawn closer to the dwarf planet.

The photos, which were taken on Jan. 13 but released today, show Dawn's view of Ceres from a distance of 238,000 miles, according to NASA.

The space agency said the images will continue to get better as Dawn gets closer to Ceres, with the eventual goal of placing the satellite in orbit on March 6. It will be the first time the spacecraft has visited a dwarf planet.

The mission is expected to continue for 16 months as researchers analyze data about Ceres, which is thought to be icy and possibly contain an ocean. Researchers said the current images already show what appear to be craters -- something they're eager to get a closer look at as Dawn edges toward its destination.

IDA/DLR/MPS/UCLA/JPL-Caltech/NASA
This processed image, taken on Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles from Ceres.