22. March 2016

Dwarf plan­et Ceres – mys­te­ri­ous ma­te­ri­al on craters and moun­tains

Haulani crater
Haulani crater
Image 1/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Haulani crater

The Haulani crater on dwarf plan­et Ceres has a di­am­e­ter of 34 kilo­me­tres. This im­age was ac­quired from a dis­tance of 1470 kilo­me­tres, and the res­o­lu­tion is 140 me­tres per pix­el. The bluish ma­te­ri­al vis­i­ble here in­di­cates rel­a­tive­ly fresh ma­te­ri­al on the sur­face.
Cre­at­ing a pre­cise im­age of dwarf plan­et Ceres, piece by piece
Video 2/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Creating a precise image of dwarf planet Ceres, piece by piece

Length: 00:25
Trav­el­ling along its low­est or­bit, the cam­era on board the Dawn or­biter grad­u­al­ly pho­tographed the sur­face of dwarf plan­et Ceres, cre­at­ing a com­pre­hen­sive map from a dis­tance of just 385 kilo­me­tres.
Occator crater
Oc­ca­tor crater
Image 3/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Occator crater

The Oc­ca­tor crater on dwarf plan­et Ceres shows cur­rent­ly un­ex­plained bright patch­es dot­ted across the in­ner sur­face. This true colour im­age re­veals more re­cent bluish ma­te­ri­al. The im­ages were ac­quired from a dis­tance of 1470 kilo­me­tres, and have a res­o­lu­tion of 140 me­tres per pix­el.
Cracks and bright spots in the Occator crater
Cracks and bright spots in the Oc­ca­tor crater
Image 4/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Cracks and bright spots in the Occator crater

The com­plex struc­tures of the Oc­ca­tor crater on dwarf plan­et Ceres are clear­ly vis­i­ble in the close-up im­ages ac­quired from a dis­tance of just 385 kilo­me­tres: in ad­di­tion to mys­te­ri­ous bright spots on the in­side of the crater, a large, light-coloured bulge can be seen next to in­nu­mer­able cracks and frac­tures.
Ikapati crater
Ika­p­ati crater
Image 5/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Ikapati crater

This true colour im­age shows the Ika­p­ati crater on dwarf plan­et Ceres from a dis­tance of 1470 kilo­me­tres. The res­o­lu­tion is 140 me­tres per pix­el.
Colour map of dwarf planet Ceres
Colour map of dwarf plan­et Ceres
Image 6/6, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Colour map of dwarf planet Ceres

This com­pre­hen­sive, coloured map of Ceres has a res­o­lu­tion of 140 me­tres per pix­el. It was put to­geth­er us­ing im­ages ac­quired by the Fram­ing Cam­era on board the Dawn or­biter from a dis­tance of 1470 kilo­me­tres.

The dwarf planet Ceres is becoming an increasingly mysterious – and exciting – celestial body as the planetary researchers working on the Dawn mission acquire more and more details. The contrast-enhanced true colours show a bluish material around several craters and mountain slopes. "Initially, it would have been fair to assume that it was produced when the crater formed during impact, but we can also see the material on Ceres' highest mountain, Ahuna Mons," explains Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). "Additionally, one could reasonably expect to see this blueish material in all craters." The researchers have not yet identified a precise explanation for this phenomenon. The Dawn team presented new images of the dwarf planet, acquired from an altitude of just 385 kilometres, at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.

Layer for layer

The contrast-enhanced colour maps of the dwarf planet Ceres show that the blueish and relatively fresh material is found in more recent craters and clinging to the mountain slopes of Ahuna Mons. "This material represents flow structures and was most probably caused by an interaction between the direct surface and the material lying directly below." It follows, therefore, that beneath the ice-free surface of Ceres, there must be another, different layer. "There are indications that this layer, situated under the uppermost crust, is enriched with ice and volatile substances." In contrast, so far, barely any ice has been discovered on the surface, as it would immediately sublimate.

The data that the Dawn orbiter is now sending back to Earth from its lowest orbit has proven helpful in the attempts to solve this mystery. “Just last year, the Occator crater looked like a single bright expanse," explains Ralf Jaumann, DLR planetary researcher and member of the Dawn team. "Now, the close-up images allow us to recognise more complex structures." Besides puzzling bright spots on the inside of the crater, there is also an expansive, light-coloured bulge right in the centre alongside innumerable cracks and fractures. "These patterns indicate quite recent geological activity – but we have to finish mapping of deposits and determine the composition before we can test our theories concerning the formation of these complex structures."

The mission

The Dawn mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, which is a division of the California Institute of Technology. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. The Framing 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
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pro­gramme and Strat­e­gy, Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-3882
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Cologne
  • 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
Images on this topic

Main menu