A new sequence of images taken by the Dawn spacecraft on May 3 and 4 from a distance of 13,600 km are the closest yet obtained of bright spots in one of the planet's craters."In this closest-yet view, the brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are revealed to be composed of many smaller spots," the US space agency said in a statement. "However, their exact nature remains unknown.

"The USD 466-million Dawn mission achieved a historic first on March 6, when it began orbiting a dwarf planet. Ceres is the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system and the biggest in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.”

Over the next 16 months, Dawn, launched in 2007, will send images of Ceres to scientists studying the planet's surface to determine if there is frozen water underneath, as NASA suspects. Ceres was discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi and initially considered a comet, then it was classified as a planet and later as an asteroid.

In 2006, it was classified as a dwarf planet.With an average diameter of 950 km, Ceres could have formed later than Vesta and may be colder inside, NASA said.


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