The lower the Dawn space probe flies over the dwarf planet Ceres with its on-board camera, the more puzzling – and exciting – the celestial body appears. “Some of the things we are seeing have never been seen anywhere else in the Solar System,” says Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Except for on Earth.” Dawn is now looking down onto the surface of Ceres from an altitude of just 1470 kilometres. The first images acquired from its High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) show a ‘pyramid’ with unusual landslides, unstable crater walls and chains of mountains. “We can only speculate about these things at the moment.” Where the bright stripes along the pyramid-shaped mountain come from and whether the surface of the dwarf planet is comprised of different materials are questions that the planetary researchers are still trying to answer.
Acting on behalf of the NASA Dawn mission team, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) chose 17 of approximately 150 fertility deities to name the most prominent craters on Ceres, which they presented to the International Astronomical Union (IAU). These names were chosen because the dwarf planet bears the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.
The Dawn orbiter initially traced the path of the equator before crossing the north and south poles of Ceres. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have used the images acquired thus far with the Framing Camera on board the spacecraft and the first three-dimensional terrain models created from them to produce a virtual scenic flight over icy Ceres.
White patches on the dwarf planet Ceres have fascinated scientists since their discovery. Now, the Dawn orbiter has transmitted new images looking vertically down on to the dwarf planet's north pole, showing two unusual patches clearly distinct from their darker surroundings.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres on 6 March 2015 at 13:39 CET. In order for Dawn to be captured by Ceres' gravitational field, the spacecraft started using its ion engines from a distance of 61,000 km to slow the spacecraft down.
It is only a few more days until the Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015, marking humankind's first visit to a dwarf planet. What Ceres has disclosed to scientists so far has raised more questions than it has provided answers.
This image of the dwarf planet Ceres was acquired on 19 February 2015 by the German-built Framing Camera on board the NASA orbiter Dawn from a distance of just under 46,000 kilometres. There are several unusual bright patches on the surface of Ceres.
Only 46,000 kilometres separated the Dawn spacecraft from its destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, when its German-built Framing Camera acquired the latest images on 19 February 2015. One of the most striking features of Ceres is the multitude of different crater shapes across its surface; in addition to numerous smaller, shallow craters, the images also reveal impact basins with large mountains located at their centres.
Planetary scientists have never seen dwarf planet Ceres from this close up. The German-developed Framing Camera on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft acquired this image on 25 January 2015 from a distance of just 237,000 kilometres.
Planetary scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) may find a thick ice crust with an ocean underneath when the NASA Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in March 2015. Even now, from a distance of 383,000 kilometres, the first surface features are visible.