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Ceres is a dwarf planet with giant potential. As NASA's Dawn spacecraft gears up for the first in-depth look at this tiny world, speculation is rife. Could Ceres be an overgrown comet? Host an ocean made of mud? Or even possess icy volcanoes that make it an unexpected host for life in the asteroid belt?

"When we complete our observations, we will show that Ceres is every bit a planet as its terrestrial neighbours Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury." That's what Christopher Russell, who leads the Dawn mission, told the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas, last week.

The first signs of excitement came earlier this month when Dawn spotted a mysterious bright spot just 1 pixel wide inside a crater as it pulled into orbit around the dwarf planet. There were suspicions that the spot could be a sign of water spewing into space, and now fresh views, presented for the first time at the LPSC, lend weight to the idea.

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