25. February 2015

Promis­ing crater-strewn land­scape on dwarf plan­et Ceres

Dwarf plan­et Ceres from a dis­tance of 46,000 kilo­me­tres
Image 1/4, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Dwarf planet Ceres from a distance of 46,000 kilometres

This im­age shows the dwarf plan­et Ceres – the Fram­ing Cam­era on board the Dawn space­craft ac­quired the im­age on 19 Febru­ary 2015 from a dis­tance of 46,000 kilo­me­tres. The dif­fer­ent crater shapes are clear­ly vis­i­ble.
Craters and bright patch­es on Ceres
Image 2/4, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Craters and bright patches on Ceres

The im­age of the dwarf plan­et Ceres shows nu­mer­ous craters strewn across its sur­face. It was tak­en from a dis­tance of 46,000 kilo­me­tres us­ing the Fram­ing Cam­era on board NASA’s Dawn space­craft. Brighter re­gions are clear­ly vis­i­ble. An in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their sig­nif­i­cance was not yet pos­si­ble when the im­age was ac­quired on 19 Febru­ary 2015.
Bright patches on Ceres
Bright patch­es on Ceres
Image 3/4, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Bright patches on Ceres

There are sev­er­al un­usu­al­ly bright patch­es on the sur­face of Ceres. The bright­est of these is in the mid­dle of a large im­pact crater and is clear­ly vis­i­ble in this im­age. It is al­so ob­vi­ous that there is an­oth­er, slight­ly less bright re­gion, ap­par­ent­ly in the same im­pact basin. The Ger­man-built Fram­ing Cam­era on board NASA’s Dawn space­craft ac­quired this im­age on 19 Febru­ary 2015, from near­ly 46,000 kilo­me­tres away.
Fi­nal stage of the jour­ney to dwarf plan­et Ceres
Image 4/4, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Final stage of the journey to dwarf planet Ceres

On­ly 46,000 kilo­me­tres sep­a­rat­ed NASA’s Dawn space­craft from its des­ti­na­tion, the dwarf plan­et Ceres, on 19 Febru­ary 2015.

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. The diameter of Ceres, the largest celestial body found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is approximately 1000 kilometres, so the largest craters on its surface could have a diameter of roughly 300 kilometres. The orbiter is currently completing the final stage of its journey; it is scheduled to reach Ceres on 6 March 2015, making it the first spacecraft to investigate a dwarf planet from close range. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will begin mapping Ceres in May 2015.

One mission, two celestial bodies

Once Dawn has entered orbit around Ceres, this will be the second celestial body that the mission has investigated; launched in 2007, the orbiter circled the asteroid Vesta in 2011, where scientists also discovered varied landscape types with craters, mountains, canyons and gorges. "Even just on approaching Ceres, we can already see a great diversity of landscapes on its surface," says Ralf Jaumann from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research. "The structures indicate that large-scale processes have changed the surface of Ceres over time." Besides craters, the images also show brighter regions that unfortunately cannot yet be interpreted from a distance of 46,000 kilometres. The image resolution at the asteroid surface is currently four kilometres per pixel.

Ceres is particularly exciting for the researchers, as they suspect that an ocean may be located beneath its crust. Unlike Vesta – a 'dry' asteroid – the second destination of the Dawn mission is a 'wet' asteroid situated further from the Sun and likely to have a water content of between 15 and 25 percent. “We are investigating two very different types of asteroid on this mission,” explains Jaumann. These two celestial bodies are unlikely to have experienced substantial changes since their formation over 4.5 billion years ago, and the scientists are hopeful that they will reveal information about the origin of the Solar System.

The mission

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena manages the Dawn mission; JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for the overall Dawn mission science. The camera system on the spacecraft was developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, in collaboration with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin and the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig. The Framing Camera project is funded by the Max Planck Society, DLR, and NASA/JPL.

  • Manuela Braun
    Ed­i­tor HR
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Cen­tral HR Mar­ket­ing
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Münchener Straße 20
    82234 Weßling
  • Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
    Freie Uni­ver­sität Berlin
    In­sti­tute of Ge­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences
    Plan­e­tary Sci­ences and Re­mote Sens­ing
    Telephone: +49-172-2355864
    Malteserstr. 74-100
    12249 Berlin
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