July 17, 2018

NASA's Dawn Probe Sends Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres to Earth

05 July 2018, 05:19 | Edward Lowe

Dawn Reveals Dramatic New Views of Occator Crater

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

NASA's Dawn spacecraft reached its lowest-planned orbit around the asteroid Ceres 6 June, giving researchers a bird's eye view of the cratered surface, including enigmatic Occator Crater with its famously bright deposits of sodium carbonate.

Dawn will stay in its new orbit for the duration of its mission, drawing out more and more details of Ceres.

Thanks to the fact that the spacecraft was able to take a set of images from the altitude of just 22 miles above the dwarf planet, we can now attempt to explain the origin of some of its geographical features.

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NASA's Dawn spacecraft has taken the best and most detailed pictures of Ceres as it maneuvered its way to a new orbit around the dwarf planet last month. According to the astronomers, the results of Dawn's expedition exceeded their initial expectations. The photographs revealed odd bright spots on the surface, which drew immediate attention from the scientific community.

One of the things that caught the attention of scientists are the glowing white spots at the bottom of the dwarf planet's Occator crater. Previous observations from the spacecraft's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer revealed that these deposits, featured in a pronounced depression, are made up from sodium carbonate.

This image of Ceres' limb was obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 30, 2018 from an altitude of about 280 miles. Scientists are wondering how they got there, suggesting they are "either from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures". However, it still goes a question that where did that water came from?

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Dawn's chief engineer Marc Rayman of NASA waxed poetic about the spacecraft's latest achievements, saying, "Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres".

The other Dawn snapshot released by NASA on July 2 captures Cerealia Facula as it's never been seen before.

"The first views of Ceres obtained by Dawn beckoned us with a single, blinding bright spot", JPL's Carol Raymond, principal investigator on the Dawn project, said in a statement.

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Hopefully, the NASA's scientists will eventually find what is dwarf planet Ceres "hiding" before the NASA's Dawn probe ends it fuel which is expected to deplete in September. "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". Dawn's current close-up orbit will serve as the last act of a scientific saga that began with its launch more than a decade ago and featured visits to Ceres and Vesta, the two biggest objects in the main asteroid belt.

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