Dawn spacecraft captures a sunlit Ceres on cam

The Dawn spacecraft has recently captured the sharpest pictures of Ceres to date, showing the dwarf planet's bright, sunlit north pole. NASA's space probe has been steadily making its way to the celestial body since 2012 after a 14-month stint orbiting the asteroid Vesta. It fired up its ion thrusters in March to slowly approach the Texas-sized proto-planet and settle into orbit, until it reaches an altitude of 233 miles from the surface. Its ultimate goal? To take 3D images and create a high-res map of Ceres, which might harbor some form of water.

These photos (shown as an animation above) were taken on April 10th, while the spacecraft was still 21,000 miles away -- for reference, the distance between the Earth and the moon is 238,900 miles. As you can see Ceres looks mighty cratered, just like our own moon. These images won't be known as the sharpest photos of Ceres for long, though: the spacecraft is bound to take even better ones as it gets closer to the dwarf planet.

[Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA]