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New pictures of dwarf planet show mysterious bright spots
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These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images, which were taken about 10 hours apart, have been magnified from their original size. - photo by Natalie Crofts
PASADENA, Calif. Researchers are closer than ever to seeing the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.

NASAs Dawn spacecraft, which launched more than seven years ago, captured the sharpest pictures yet of Ceres from a distance of 52,000 miles on Feb. 12. The spacecraft is expected to enter the dwarf planets orbit on March 6, at which point researchers will receive more pictures and data.

However, NASA researchers said the sighting of craters and mysterious bright spots has already posed intriguing questions.

"As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser," said Dawn mission principal investigator Chris Russell in a statement. "We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled."

Ceres is located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It was prevented from becoming a full-fledged planet by gravitational perturbations from Jupiter, according to NASA. Researchers have previously said they believe large amounts of water may be frozen underneath the dwarf planet's surface.

Before approaching Ceres, the Dawn spacecraft spent 14 months in 2011 and 2012 documenting the giant asteroid Vesta. NASA said researchers hope to learn more about the formation of the solar system by comparing the two space objects.
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