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    A picture of the giant Vesta asteroid taken by Dawn in November 2012.

    NASA Dawn Spacecraft Nears Dwarf Planet Ceres

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    Space mission will be able to take the best images yet of the asteroid, which lies between Mars and Jupiter.

    MOSCOW, December 31 (Sputnik) – NASA has revealed that its Dawn spacecraft has started its approach phase to the planet Ceres, and is now just 640,000 kilometers and a couple of months away from completing a journey which began from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2007.

    "Ceres is almost a complete mystery to us," Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said in a press release from NASA yesterday. "Ceres has no meteorites linked to it to help reveal its secrets. All we can predict with confidence is that we will be surprised."

    Ceres is the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and with an average diameter of 950 kilometers is roughly the size of Texas. The Dawn spacecraft is travelling at a speed of around 725 kilometers per hour and is scheduled to reach the planet in March 2015.     

    Earlier this month NASA announced that Dawn had delivered the best images yet taken of the planet, which it has hypothesized to be an icy body, "reminiscent of members of the outer solar system." Prior to the Dawn mission, the best images taken of Ceres were from the Hubble Space Telescope, which lies in the Earth's lower orbit.

    The mission previously spent 14 months in 2011 and 2012 orbiting the Vesta protoplanet, the second biggest body in the belt, on the way to its current destination. The research confirmed Vesta to be "a dynamic terrestrial world, much like members of the inner solar system," while Ceres is so far known to be larger but less dense, with a thin atmosphere.

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