Monday, 16 July, 2018

Mysterious Bright Spots On Ceres Examined Closely By NASA’s Dawn Mission

NASA's Dawn mission caught this view toward Ceres' horizon before lowering to an orbit just dozens of miles above the dwarf planet's surface Dawn Reveals Dramatic New Views of Occator Crater
Sandra Phillips | 05 July, 2018, 17:16

Before arriving at Ceres, Dawn explored the asteroid Vesta.

A dwarf planet, Ceres has always been the subject of astronomers' interest.

Dawn will descend even closer to the salty deposits on the edge of the Occator Crater to capture more images, before landing on Ceres and going dark for good.

This mosaic of a prominent mound located on the western side of Cerealia Facula was obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on June 22, 2018, from an altitude of about 21 miles (34 kilometers).

NASA scientists have been analyzing the data to delve into these features, but when Dawn reached its new orbit on June 6, coming just 35 kilometers (22 miles) above surface, the agency got a chance to take a better, closer look at a 90km-wide crater called Occator - one of the sites where the bright deposits were seen.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is wowing space buffs with its most detailed images yet of Ceres, a dwarf planet and one of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.

What are these bright spots?

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See more images from Dawn's low orbits here. They could also determine if the carbonates found on Ceres came from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of water rich in minerals or from a deeper source of water that moved upwards and seeped through cracks.

Cerealia Facula is now believed to be the largest deposit of sodium carbonate on Ceres, right in the centre of Occator Crater. These deposits are thought to be salt from briny water that erupted from the dwarf planet's surface before sublimating.

Scientists hope that the images taken by the probe in low orbit, the neutron and gamma spectrum and in the visible and infrared, will shed light on the origin of the materials found on the surface of Ceres.

Carol Raymond, Dawn's principal investigator, said: "The first views of Ceres obtained by Dawn beckoned us with a single, blinding bright spot". This made Dawn the first object to orbit two different bodies beyond the Earth-Moon system.

NASA engineer and Dawn project manager Marc Rayman, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the photos are the culmination of an incredible venture across the solar system.

Dawn is in the final months of its mission, and ground controllers nudged the spacecraft into an orbit last month which takes the probe 10 times closer to Ceres than ever before. "While the extension of Dawn in ceras, it has been exciting to highlight the nature and history of this fascinating dwarf planet, and it is particularly appropriate that Don's final work will provide rich new data sets to test those principles".

Before its recent descent, the closest Dawn had traveled to Ceres was 240 miles (385 kilometers). Mission controllers look forward to continued science from Dawn, but they have completed all planned firing sessions of the industrious engines.

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