New features on Ceres' icy surface are popping into view as NASA's Dawn spacecraft slowly spirals in on its final celestial target in the asteroid belt.
ANALYSIS: NASA Spacecraft Ready to Unlock Ceres' Mysteries
Due to arrive in a stable Ceres orbit in March, the ion drive-propelled spacecraft is now less than 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers) from its ultimate goal.
As the solar system's innermost dwarf planet, very little was known about Ceres until this year's sharpening photographs from Dawn. Before Dawn, only a blurry blob through the Hubble Space Telescope's optics could be seen, with hints of color variations in the small world's surface.
NEWS: NASA Probe Gets Best Ever View of Dwarf Planet Ceres
But as this most recent series of observations show, Ceres has a varied surface apparently covered in impact craters. In the dwarf planet's south polar region, for example, a large, well formed and approximately circular impact crater can be resolved.
The mysterious bright feature that has fascinated planetary scientists is still there and slowly beginning to reveal some detail. What's more, there appears to be several more smaller bright features -- could they be indicative of ice accumulations or some subsurface mineral exposed by impacts?
These are the sharpest images of Ceres to date, where each pixel spans 8.5 miles (14 kilometers) across.
On Monday, Discovery News attended the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's "Icy Worlds" media event in Pasadena, Calif., and had the opportunity to chat with Dawn mission scientists, find out what they had to say about their unprecedented and thrilling mission.
For more information about this observation and the Dawn mission, browse the Dawn news release.