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NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Snaps Photos of Mysterious Bright Regions in Dwarf Planet Ceres

Nov 21, 2016 04:18 AM EST
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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has photographed a new dramatic view of the dwarf planet Ceres, capturing its central bright region.
(Photo : WikiImages / Pixabay)

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has captured a new image of the dwarf planet Ceres, showing the bright regions in one of its craters.

The new images show the planet's shadowy, cratered terrain called the Occator Crater, with a view of its central bright region and secondary, less reflective areas. The images were taken on Oct. 16 from the spacecraft's fifth science orbit where the sun's angle was different from those in previous orbits. At that point, Dawn was about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers) above Ceres, NASA said.

"This image captures the wonder of soaring above this fascinating, unique world that Dawn is the first to explore," Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

The Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) wide and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep and shows evidence of recent geologic activity. According to the latest research, the bright material at the center of the crater is comprised of salts left behind after a briny liquid emerged from below, which turned into ice and then sublimated.

The impact that formed the crater millions of years ago may have unearthed material that covered the area outside the crater, which may have triggered the upwelling of the salty liquid, NASA said.

Dawn scientists have released another image at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin showing how Ceres' colors would appear to the human eye. The view combines images of Dawn's first science orbit in 2015 using the framing camera's red, green and blue filters. The color was calculated based on how Ceres reflects different wavelengths of light.

Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to Earth and the biggest member of the asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter, measuring about 585 miles in diameter. Dawn had begun its journey to Ceres in 2012 after studying the asteroid Vesta -- the brightest asteroid in the solar system -- and had been gathering tens of thousands of images and other information from the dwarf planet since arriving in March 2015. The mission has been extended since July, sending the spacecraft to a new science orbit.

On Nov. 4, NASA's Dawn spacecraft began making its way to a sixth science orbit, which will be over 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from the dwarf planet Ceres.

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