Since March of this year, the spacecraft has orbited around the dwarf planet and, with new imagery, NASA’s Dawn unveils and yet adds to the mysteries of Ceres, by making new discoveries. Incredible 3-D animations and images have been made available, in black and white to determine the complex surface of the space object.
Ceres is known as being the largest object, or dwarf planet, in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, now estimated at 584 miles in diameter. On March 6th, 2015, Dawn has made history by being the first spacecraft and mission to approach the space object after conducting detailed observations of Vesta.
The new extensive highlights of Ceres have provided images that were both endlessly fascinating and puzzling to NASA scientists, who are trying to uncover the mysteries of the dwarf planet. For one, they discovered a 4 miles high mountain in the middle of nowhere at 11 degrees south and 316 degrees east.
The lonely mountain is shaped like a cone or a pyramid, by estimations, and is apparently associated with no craters, which begs to question of what sort of geological process formed it. There are bright streaks of white along the surface and is the tallest feature ever discovered on Ceres, according to Paul Schenk, Dawn science member and geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas.
Closer observations upon the mountain and research is needed in order to discover the nature of its existence, along with possible explanations as to how it was formed.
The second puzzle is the famous Occator crater in the northern hemisphere, Ceres’ brightest spot that has also raised a few questions after a 3-D examination. Most significantly, the bright spots within the crater reflect light at oddly different wavelengths, which scientists have found not to be consistent with ice.
The measure of light reflection (or bright spots in this case) is standardized with the help of albedo. The new imagery from NASA’s Dawn has revealed that the amount of light reflected is lower than predicted for concentration of ice. Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, claims that they intend to compare the spots with the reflective properties of salt.
The sources, however, of both the mountain and the reflections remain unknown.
NASA’s Dawn will resume its observations and in mid-August will be orbiting three times closer to Ceres than ever before. Previous investigations have been conducted from 27,000 miles away and it’s now set to approach as close as 9,000 miles, which will provide further detail and perhaps answers to some of the questions.
Image source: dawnblog.jpl.nasa.gov