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See What a Dwarf Planet Looks Like Spinning Through the Asteroid Belt in a NASA Dawn Mission GIF

So a lot like Pluto, right? Shots fired!

Dawn-from-Vesta-to-CeresThe dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in our solar system’s asteroid belt—in between Mars and Jupiter—at about 2,850,000 square kilometers of surface area. NASA’s Dawn mission is approaching Ceres for a rendezvous in the coming months, and it’s now close enough to give us a close up look at the object.

PIA19168

(image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI)

This GIF was recorded by the Dawn spacecraft over an hour’s worth of Ceres’ rotation on its axis at a distance of 238,000 miles—about the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Ceres’ surface spans 27 pixels in the original images, and the Dawn spacecraft will start sending back even better pictures as it approaches its March 6 arrival. When it reaches its destination, the spacrecraft will be the first to ever orbit two targets in the solar system; it previously orbited the second largest object in the asteroid belt, Vesta.

New images of Ceres from Dawn at the end of the month will surpass the best existing pictures of the dwarf planet taken by Hubble, and it’s possible that the object’s surface has ice and even an ocean beneath it, so stay tuned for some fascinating clues about the formation of our solar system.

(via NASA, image via NASA/JPL)

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Dan is a video game modding hobbyist and secret ninja who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa Brown, and his dog, Liz Lemon, both of whom are the best.