Landslides and Bright Craters on Ceres Revealed in Marvelous New Images from Dawn

Ceres' Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Now in orbit for just over a year at dwarf planet Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft continues to astound us with new discoveries gleaned from spectral and imagery data captured at ever decreasing orbits as well as since the probe arrived last December at the lowest altitude it will ever reach during the mission.

Mission scientists have just released marvelous new images revealing landslides and mysterious slumps at several of the mysterious bright craters on Ceres, the largest asteroid.

The newly released image of oddly shaped Haulani crater above, shows the crater in enhanced color and reveals evidence of landslides emanating from its crater rim.

“Rays of bluish ejected material are prominent in this image. The color blue in such views has been associated with young features on Ceres,” according to the Dawn science team.

“Enhanced color allows scientists to gain insight into materials and how they relate to surface morphology.”

Look at the image closely and you’ll see its actually polygonal in nature – meaning it resembles a shape made of straight lines – unlike most craters in our solar system which are nearly circular.

”The straight edges of some Cerean craters, including Haulani, result from pre-existing stress patterns and faults beneath the surface,” says the science team.

Haulani Crater has a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers) and apparently was formed by an impacting object relatively recently in geologic time.

“Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface,” said Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn framing camera team, based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, in a statement.

The enhanced color image was created from data gathered at Dawn’s High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO), while orbiting at an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers) from Ceres.
Since mid-December, Dawn has been orbiting Ceres in its Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO), at a distance of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres, resulting in the most stunning images ever of the dwarf planet.

By way of comparison the much higher resolution image of Haulani crater below, is a mosaic of views assembled from multiple images taken from LAMO at less than a third of the HAMO image distance – at only 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Ceres.

Dawn has also been busy imaging Oxo Crater, which despite its small size of merely 6-mile-wide (10-kilometer-wide) actually counts as a “hidden treasure” on Ceres – because it’s the second-brightest feature on Ceres!

Only the mysterious bright region comprising a multitude of spots inside Occator Crater shine more brightly on Ceres.

“Little Oxo may be poised to make a big contribution to understanding the upper crust of Ceres,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The signatures of minerals detected on the floor of Oxo crater appears to be different from the rest of Ceres.

Furthermore Oxo is “also unique because of the relatively large “slump” in its crater rim, where a mass of material has dropped below the surface.”

The “slump” region is extremely dark in the image below.

Dawn is Earth’s first probe in human history to explore any dwarf planet, the first to explore Ceres up close and the first to orbit two celestial bodies.

The asteroid Vesta was Dawn’s first orbital target where it conducted extensive observations of the bizarre world for over a year in 2011 and 2012.

The mission is expected to last until at least later into 2016, and possibly longer, depending upon fuel reserves.

Dawn will remain at its current altitude at LAMO for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward, even when no further communications are possible.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Landslides and Bright Craters on Ceres Revealed in Marvelous New Images from Dawn appeared first on Universe Today.

Dawn Unveils New Bright Features on Ceres in Striking Close-Ups

This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim and walls, which could be salts. Its flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has unveiled a new patch of intriguing bright features in the most recent series of striking close-up images taken just after the probe reached the lowest altitude it will ever reach during the mission.

From Dawn’s current altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Ceres, every image taken from now on of the “unique landforms” will be of the highest resolution attainable since the ship will never swoop down closer to the pockmarked surface for science.

Dawn arrived at this final orbit known as the Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO) in mid-December.

And the scientists are absolutely gushing over the data as the much sharper new images stream back to Earth.

“Everywhere we look in these new low- altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a statement.

So, as the New Year dawns for Dawn, scientists learned that their hoped for Christmas wish list was overflowing with presents of photos revealing the most exquisite details ever received from dwarf planet Ceres.

Indeed they speculate that the bright features exposed on its rim as seen in the image of Kupalo Crater, shown above, may be salts.

The newly released images from LAMO were taken by Dawn’s Framing camera between Dec. 19 and 23, 2015.

If the bright features are salts, they may originate result from briny mixtures of ice and salts that apparently reside just beneath certain patches of the pockmarked surface and are the leftover residues from water evaporation – like those seen at Occator crater.

So one goal of the team is to determine whether the bright material in Kupalo is at all related to the “bright spots” of Occator Crater.

Scientists believe that Kupalo Crater is one of the youngest craters on Ceres. It is named for the Slavic god of vegetation and harvest.

Kupalo measures about 16 miles (26 kilometers) across and “shows off many fascinating attributes at the high image resolution of 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel. It’s flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris.”

It is located at the southern mid-latitudes on Ceres.

“This crater and its recently-formed deposits will be a prime target of study for the team as Dawn continues to explore Ceres in its final mapping phase,” said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

In addition to the Framing camera, Dawn is studying Ceres with its other two instruments; namely the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) and the gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND).

VIR will help identify minerals present on its surface while GRaND gather data on elemental abundances and composition. Together these data will help researchers understand how Ceres evolved of billions of years.

Dawn is Earth’s first probe in human history to explore any dwarf planet, the first to explore Ceres up close and the first to orbit two celestial bodies.

The asteroid Vesta was Dawn’s first orbital target where it conducted extensive observations of the bizarre world for over a year in 2011 and 2012.

The mission is expected to last until at least March 2016, and possibly longer, depending upon fuel reserves.

“When we set sail for Ceres upon completing our Vesta exploration, we expected to be surprised by what we found on our next stop. Ceres did not disappoint,” notes Russell.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The post Dawn Unveils New Bright Features on Ceres in Striking Close-Ups appeared first on Universe Today.

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