Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2015 January 20
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Approaching Asteroid Ceres
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Explanation: It is the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt -- what secrets does it hold? To find out, NASA has sent the robotic Dawn spacecraft to explore and map this cryptic 1,000-kilometer wide world: Ceres. Orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is officially categorized as a dwarf planet but has never been imaged in detail. Featured here is a 20-frame video taken a week ago of Dawn's approach that now rivals even the best images of Ceres ever taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The video shows enough surface definition to discern its 9-hour rotation period. On target to reach Ceres in early March, Dawn will match speeds and attempt to orbit this previously unexplored body, taking images and data that may help humanity better understand not only the nature and history of Ceres but also the early history of our entire Solar System.

Tomorrow's picture: ion comet

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
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