Dawn just beat out the New Horizons Pluto flyby for the distinction of the first-ever visit to a dwarf planet, and the spacecraft is also the first to orbit two different targets. Before orbiting Ceres, it visited another object in the asteroid belt – Vesta, the belt's second largest object. Because Ceres has the makings of a (dwarf) planet and Vesta, while close to it in size, still seems to be a fairly typical asteroid, scientists wanted to compare and contrast them to figure out how such objects may have formed.
"When we set sail for Ceres upon completing our Vesta exploration, we expected to be surprised by what we found on our next stop. Ceres did not disappoint," Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said in a statement. "Everywhere we look in these new low- altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world."
The image at the top of the post captures Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest on Ceres. The infamous bright spots of Ceres are located in the Occator Crater, but it's possible the white streaks visible in this new image are a related phenomenon. The team plans to study this crater closely during the final months of the prime mission, which ends in June. Dawn will keep orbiting as long as it is able, and (pending more funding) a secondary mission could go on indefinitely.