Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, has been the focus of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft for some time now. The dwarf planet, which lies between Mars and Jupiter, is the thirty-third largest known body in the Solar System and the only one that circuits entirely within Neptune’s orbit.
Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA
Today, the Dawn space probe, launched by NASA back in 2007, continues to keep its eye on the celestial body. Recently, it sent back the clearest photos of Ceres to date, nearly three times the resolution of the images the probe snapped in June, when it was orbiting 2,700 miles above the surface of Ceres. These new photos, taken at an altitude of 915 miles, depict Ceres’ Occator impact crater like never before, revealing – yet again – the mysterious bright spots that characterize the dwarf planet.
DAWN SPACE PROBE SHEDS LIGHT ON CERES
To this day, scientists are still uncertain of what exactly is causing these bright spots; so far, volcanoes, salt deposits and even ice geysers have been offered as possible hypotheses, according to the Huffington Post. However, regardless of where they’ve enigmatically spawn from, space enthusiasts can all agree that the bright spots make for some captivating photographs, as Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director suggests:
“Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE DAWN SPACECRAFT AND CERES
Over the course of the next two months, everyone can expect to see and hear much more about Dawn. For the time being, the space craft has kept itself busy mapping all of Ceres; it has already completed two 11-day cycles, each consisting of 14 orbits, and recently began its third on September 9. Dawn will complete this procedure six more times, which will ultimately allow scientists to construct 3D maps of the dwarf planet. Each cycle, in the meantime, helps to captures a slightly different viewing angle to aid in the construction, according to NASA.
“Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery,” Rayman said.
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