TIME space

Best-Ever Photo of Dwarf Planet Ceres

Ready for its close-up: Ceres as you never saw it
Ready for its close-up: Ceres as you never saw it JPL/NASA

An unusual spacecraft closes in on a mysterious world

NASA’s Dawn space probe, which dazzled scientists with its astonishing views of the asteroid Vesta back in 2012, is about to do it again. A little over five weeks from now, the 2.7 ton probe will go into orbit around Ceres—another asteroid-belt object that is so huge, at 590 miles (940 km) across, it was promoted from asteroid to “dwarf planet” at the same time Pluto was being demoted into the same category.

Ceres is also among the strangest objects in the Solar System: unlike most asteroids, which are largely made of rock, this one contains at least 20 percent water, and may even feature geysers, like Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It is, says, Michael Küppers, of the European Space Agency “a very peculiar beast of an asteroid.”

What that beast looks like in detail will have to wait, but with Dawn just 147,000 miles (274,000 km) away from its target—closer than the Moon is to the Earth—NASA has just released the best image of Ceres ever seen. It’s 30 percent sharper than what Hubble can do, even though the Dawn cameras aren’t designed to do their best imaging from this far away.

“We’re seeing things that look like they could be craters,” says Mark Sykes, a Dawn co-investigator from the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute, “We’re also seeing these extended, kind of ribbonlike structures, which could be evidence of the kinds of internal processes you see on larger planets.”

The new images also confirm the existence of a mysterious white spot in the north that was seen in earlier images. (It’s actually very dark—nearly as black as coal, says Sykes, although not as dark as the rest of Ceres; the images are deliberately optically stretched to enhance contrast so surface features will show up). It’s almost certainly not ice, Sykes says: even dirty ice would have vaporized over the ten years since the spot first showed up in Hubble images.

But it could in theory be mineral deposits from under the surface. “If water is gushing out at times, it should leave a signature behind,” Sykes says. Light-colored deposits would darken over time, though, so if that’s what it is, it has to be relatively recent. The answer to this and other questions about Ceres’ structure, surface features and composition won’t come until after Dawn goes into orbit to begin its mission in earnest on March 6.

Astute space cadets might wonder how it could possibly take Dawn five more weeks to travel less than 150,000 miles to its rendezvous with Ceres; after all, the Apollo astronauts rocketed all the way to the Moon, 239,000 miles (384,000 km) from Earth in just three days. The answer is that Dawn was designed from the start to be a super slow spacecraft. Rather than relying on traditional chemical rockets once in space, it uses ion propulsion. The technology is well known to sci-fi fans. In fact, says Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer, “I first heard of it on Star Trek, when Captain Kirk says ‘advanced ion propulsion is even beyond our capabilities.'”

Evidently not, though. The idea, first tested on the Deep Space 1 mission back in the 1990’s, is to use electromagnetic fields to shoot charged particles out the back of a spacecraft (in this case, ionized xenon atoms), thrusting the craft itself forward. The acceleration, is much more modest than with a rocket engine. “It’s very gentle,” says Rayman. “It pushes on the spacecraft as hard as a sheet of paper you’re holding pushes down on your hand.” But because ion engines are so efficient, it can maintain that acceleration for far longer.

Once Dawn arrives at Ceres, it will orbit the dwarf planet at an altitude of about 8,000 miles (12,900 km) to start with, then descend to under 3,000 (4,800 km). Ultimately, the probe will image Ceres from less than 250 miles (402 km) up, taking not only photos but also scientific measurements that should finally lay bare the secrets of this most un-asteroidlike body.

Unlike other orbiting probes, however, including Deep Impact, LCROSS and MESSENGER, which visited a comet, the Moon and Mercury, respectively, Dawn won’t be sent in for a crash landing when the mission is over in 2016. “We know Ceres has water,” says Christopher Russell of UCLA, Dawn’s chief scientist. “We don’t know if it has life, but if it does, and if we contaminate the surface, we might mess it up.”

Even as Dawn inches toward Ceres, meanwhile, NASA’s New Horizons probe is speeding at thousands of miles per hour toward its own close encounter with Pluto next July. By mid-May, New Horizons, too, will have taken images of its target that surpass the Hubble. And by early next summer, scientists will be happily drowning in images and data from not one but two dwarf planets—both of which will be revealing their secrets at last.

TIME advice

8 New Uses for Your Favorite Photos

photos
Getty Images

Been meaning to frame certain shots forever? These eight ingenious ideas will help you get pictures out of the attic (or off the iPhone) and into your life

1. Picture Puzzle

Imagine the fun of assembling a photo-turned-puzzle starring Grandma and Grandpa. Just upload your treasured snapshot and choose between the 60-piece (shown) or the more challenging 252-piece option.
To buy: $30, shutterfly.com.

2. Decal Gallery

Why not have a series of related images printed as decals? Press in place about a quarter-inch apart, and—voila!—instant artful grid. No frames (or adhesive) required. When you feel like changing it up, peel off and reapply.
To buy: $13, pinholepress.com.

3. Art and Artist Book

Combine candids of your little painter and her favorite masterpieces in a neat, soft-cover tome. Or pair recipes with photos of family gatherings for an equally sweet keepsake.
To buy: $37, artifactuprising.com.

4. Memory Game

Another way to toy with snapshots? Make a memory game of them. Upload images of your family’s favorite people, places, and things for a boxed matching game. A nice way to familiarize your little ones with their faraway cousins.
To buy: $20, pinholepress.com.

5. Wood Photo Calendar

A photo calendar isn’t a new idea, but the clean lines, exquisite font, and clever clipper here elevate the form—and inspire you to find your very best shots.
To buy: $30, artifactuprising.com.

6. Circle Snapshot-Mix Photo Art

For a heavy dose of happiness, collect photos from a sentimental period—like a school year or the span from pregnancy through baby’s first birthday—and assemble them into a collage. A blend of black-and-white and color is particularly striking.
To buy: From $29, minted.com.

7. Sticker Sets

Cats, dogs, beachside toes, nature details, bffs—whatever it is you (or your kids) like to snap—can be reborn as tiny stickers to adorn binders, embellish envelopes, or collect in a book. They’re smaller than a postage stamp, so stick with close-ups.
To buy: $15 for two books, printstud.io.

8. Magnetic Mini Album

Treat your refrigerator to a vacation—and flip through while waiting for a bagel to toast or water to boil. Three books come in an order; keep one and give the others to friends who came on the trip.
To buy: $10 for three books, printstud.io.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME celebrity

North West Just Took Her First Steps, Is Now One Step Closer to World Domination

North West Walks With Me

Keeping up with North West just got a little more difficult. Kim Kardashian’s baby North took her first steps Wednesday getting out of a pool after swim lessons. The reality television star posted a photo to Instagram taken by her husband Kanye West with the caption:

Our baby girl finished one week of swimming lessons today then took her 1st steps right when she got out of the pool!!!! Mommy & Daddy are so proud of you!!!! Photo cred: Daddy

She’s walking her way right into E’s next reality television show.

TIME celebrities

Beyoncé Just Posted the Ultimate Feminist Photo

She woke up like this

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

Well, obviously Beyoncé can do it. The 17-time Grammy winner posted a photo to Instagram Tuesday that mirrors the famous Rosie the Riveter poster, a cultural icon that recognizes the contributions made by women during World War II. Beyonce, a self-described “modern-day feminist,” incorporated ideas often symbolized by Rosie in her most recent album. The photo racked up more than 300,000 likes within half an hour.

Beyoncé is currently on the road with husband Jay Z for their joint “On the Run” tour.

TIME royals

Prince George Hangs Out at the Natural History Museum With Will and Kate

BRITAIN-ROYALS-GEORGE
Prince George during a visit to the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum, London, July 2, 2014, in a photo released on July 19 to mark Prince George's first birthday. John Stillwell—AFP/Getty Images

The young royal Prince George celebrates his first birthday Tuesday

The world’s most powerful baby celebrates his first birthday on Tuesday, and parents Will and Kate have decided to grace the world with new photos of their little Prince George. The apple-cheeked heir has had a busy first year, filled with public playdates, a magazine cover, his very own currency and a serious friendship with family dog Lupo.

The United Kingdom Press Association released a new photo of the Buckingham baby on Saturday, from an earlier visit to the “Sensational Butterflies” exhibition at the Natural History Museum with his parents. The Duchess of Cambridge Catherine is a patron of the museum. Two more photos of the royal family are expected to be released Monday.

TIME celebrities

Jennifer Lawrence’s Class Clown Moments Caught on Film

Jennifer Lawrence was seen face-palming Emma Watson at the Christian Dior fashion show in Paris Monday, but this is only her most recent incident of goofing off in front of the camera

TIME App

Tinder’s New Photo Feature Is A Lot Like Snapchat

Tinder

The dating app added a "Moments" feature that allows users to share photos with matches that will disappear in 24 hours

Updated 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday

In a continued attempt to move away from its “just a hookup app” stereotype, Tinder added a new feature Thursday that turns it into more of a social sharing platform. “Moments” allows users to show their matches photos taken throughout the day that will disappear after 24 hours — longer than your average Tinder relationship.

“We’ve done a really good job of helping people form new relationships, so good in fact that we just reached 2 billion matches this week, but making the connection is just the start,” founder and CEO Sean Rad told TIME. “We wanted to give our users a better way to get to know their matches and communicate with them. And that’s what led to Moments.”

A user can click on a camera icon at the top of their “Matches” tab to take a photo that will be shared with all potential suitors and then get erased from existence in 24 hours. (But keep your pants on—literally—users can easily report and block inappropriate photo sharers).

While the “Moments feature certainly has some Snapchat-esque elements—people can draw, caption, and put filters on the ephemeral photos—it still stays true to the Tinder user experience.

“I think Tinder is different [from Snapchat],” Rad said. “Of course we’ve taken inspiration from other experiences out there, but the core user experience with moments is very Unique and familiar to our users in the way we present the content. The action of swiping is very unique to Tinder.”

Users have the ability to swipe through their potential suitors’ Moments, found on top of their “Matches” tab. A swipe right alerts the photo taker that you “Liked” their Moment, creating new opportunities for communication.

Rad said that Tinder decided to make the pictures self-destruct in a day to “take away that pressure of wanting to make it perfect and allow you to be more yourself.”

Tinder claims to produce 800 million swipes and 10 million matches a day. And the founders promise that it is adding more features that will expand on the dating functionality.

As Josh Stein, a partner at VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, told Bloomberg,”Tinder might end up competing with Snapchat or Facebook.”

This could be seen as the next step to making Tinder—which Rad says “is already about more than just dating”—a social platform.

“I think you could look at it as an evolution,” he said. “To us social means meeting new people and strengthening the bonds that you have with existing relationships. We’ve done the meeting people well, now it’s about giving unique and fun tools to people to connect with those matches.”

TIME movies

See the First Photos From the Set of Star Wars: Episode VII

Leaked photos give a promising glimpse into the production of the new film

The first photos from the set of Star Wars: Episode VII, currently filming in Abu Dhabi, have been leaked by TMZ — and they offer a tantalizing glimpse into what director J.J. Abrams has in store for fans. Production began earlier this month in Abu Dhabi in conjunction with filming at England’s Pinewood Studios.

TMZ

The leaked photos show a giant monster as well as a number of extras in bedouin-like garb in a desert environment that has not been confirmed to be the desert planet of Tatooine. None of the primary characters are shown in the photos, but it’s worth checking out anyway for our first look at Abrams’ galaxy far, far away.

[TMZ]

TIME Washington

This Satellite Photo Of Washington Mudslide Shows Full Extent of Damage

A DigitalGlobe close-up satellite imagery of the Osa, Washington mudslide area after the March 2014 tragedy. Imagery collected on March 31st, 2014.
A DigitalGlobe close-up satellite imagery of the Oso, Washington mudslide area after the March 2014 tragedy. Imagery collected on March 31st, 2014. DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

An image snapped from a DigitalGlobe satellite on March 31 shows the enormous damage caused by the March 22 mudslide in Snohomish County, where at least 27 bodies have been found and search teams are still looking for 22 people who remain missing

A satellite image taken Monday illustrates the full extent of damage caused by the March 22 mudslide in Snohomish County, Wash. Rescuers are still looking through the wreckage in search of victims. The death toll rose to 27 Tuesday, while the number of missing remained at 22.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee urged President Barack Obama on Monday to make a “major disaster declaration” in Snohomish County, as financial losses mounted in the rescue operations. That would allow individuals and businesses to access federal relief programs, including disaster-related unemployment insurance and housing.

TIME iwo jima

VIDEO: The Story Behind the Iconic Iwo Jima Photograph

The photo depicts the raising of the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima, which drew to a close 69 years ago this week

When AP photographer Joe Rosenthal watched marines hoisting the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945, he wasn’t sure he got the shot. It turned out to be one of the most famous photographs from WWII.

In the video above, Hal Buell, former photo editor of the Associated Press, narrates the history and significance of what Rosenthal captured in the image. The battle ended 69 years ago this week.

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