Published: Thu, July 05, 2018
Sci-tech | By Brandy Patterson

Dawn Snaps 'Intimate Portrait' Of Ceres Revealing 'Dramatic Views' Of Occator Crater

Dawn Snaps 'Intimate Portrait' Of Ceres Revealing 'Dramatic Views' Of Occator Crater

Before arriving at Ceres, Dawn explored the asteroid Vesta.

One of the things that caught the attention of scientists are the glowing white spots at the bottom of the dwarf planet's Occator crater. By carrying out this maneuver, the probe flew closer to the dwarf planet's Cerealia Facula. Scientists took a huge crater's occura with salt deposits in the cracks (on the images visible landslides on the edges).

The US space probe dropped into its lowest and final orbit around Ceres on June 6 when it dove to 22 miles above its surface.

Mission controllers have turned off the industrious ion engines on NASA's Dawn spacecraft for the last time and do not expect to turn them back on again, if everything goes as planned for the rest of Dawn's mission in orbit around Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt. Later observations from the probe helped explain that the mysterious bright sections consisted of sodium carbonate. The new elliptical orbit, which takes the probe from a little more than 20 miles (33 kilometers) above Ceres to a maximum distance around 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) will force Dawn to burn its remaining propellant faster, limiting its lifetime.

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However, what still baffles the researchers is where that salty water came from on Ceres. So far, it's still unclear whether the faculae on Ceres were exposed "from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures", state NASA officials. This is the region of Occator Crater that contains a large deposit of sodium carbonate.

Close-up image of the Vinalia Faculae in Occator Crater.

Data obtained by Dawn's other instruments may also unveil the composition of the dwarf planet at a finer scale, which could shed more light on the origins of the materials on the surface.

To see more images from the Dawn mission, including those from these close flybys, check out NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory site. Dawn has been orbiting Ceres since 2015, after first exploring the asteroid Vesta.

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Before its recent descent, the closest Dawn had traveled to Ceres was 240 miles (385 kilometers). This made Dawn the first object to orbit two different bodies beyond the Earth-Moon system.

Dawn's principal investigator, Carol Raymond of JPL, chimed in on the spacecraft's current mission at Ceres and its upcoming finale.

Last week the spacecraft fired off its ion engine, potentially for the very last time, in an attempt to get even closer to Cerealia Facula. "Unraveling the nature and history of this fascinating dwarf planet during the course of Dawn's extended stay at Ceres has been thrilling, and it is especially fitting that Dawn's last act will provide rich new data sets to test those theories".

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