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Dwarf planet Ceres' weird spots shine in new NASA movie

NASA's Dawn mission settled in between Ceres and the sun to create a fascinating movie showing the dwarf planet's rotation.

Watch for Ceres' bright spots as it rotates.

While NASA's Cassini mission at Saturn has been grabbing a lot of space headlines lately, the agency's Dawn spacecraft continues its work at Ceres, a dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA released a new animation on Tuesday showing Ceres rotating in fascinating fashion.

The dwarf planet's mysterious bright spots are on display. The Dawn spacecraft captured the images used in the movie on April 29 from a position between the sun and Ceres and from a distance of about 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) away from the dwarf planet.

Seeing Ceres at opposition to the sun gives researchers a brighter view of its surface. "This increase in brightness, or 'surge,' relates the size of the grains of material on the surface, as well as the porosity of those materials," NASA notes. Researchers are now analyzing data gathered from Dawn's observations.

Dawn launched in 2007 and recently suffered a technical malfunction, but NASA reports the spacecraft is healthy and able to orient itself as needed.

Update, May 17 at 10:o0 a.m. PT: This story has been updated to amend the location of the asteroid belt where Ceres is found.