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NASA offers best-yet images of Ceres' bright spot

"We're excited to unveil these beautiful new images, especially Occator," said NASA scientist Carol Raymond.

By Brooks Hays
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The closest-yet imagery of Ceres' brightest bright spot inside the Occator Crater. The bright spots of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Such views can be used to highlight subtle color differences on Ceres' surface. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI
The closest-yet imagery of Ceres' brightest bright spot inside the Occator Crater. The bright spots of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Such views can be used to highlight subtle color differences on Ceres' surface. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI

PASADENA, Calif., March 23 (UPI) -- New images from NASA's Dawn probe offers the closest view yet of Ceres' brightest bright spot, located inside the dwarf planet's Occator Crater.

The latest images were captured during Dawn's closes-yet orbit of Ceres. With each new survey, Dawn has produced increasingly detailed photos of Ceres' surface. But the clearer images haven't necessarily clarified the origins of Ceres' bright spots.

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The explanation remains largely the same: the unique reflectivity is likely the product of ice or salts produced by volcanic or geologic activity.

Mostly, the new images have offered more questions and few answers.

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"Before Dawn began its intensive observations of Ceres last year, Occator Crater looked to be one large bright area," Ralf Jaumann, planetary scientist and Dawn co-investigator at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, said in a NASA news release. "Now, with the latest close views, we can see complex features that provide new mysteries to investigate."

"The intricate geometry of the crater interior suggests geologic activity in the recent past, but we will need to complete detailed geologic mapping of the crater in order to test hypotheses for its formation," Jaumann added.

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Dawn's most recent and most intimate orbit didn't focus solely on Occator Crater. The probe also surveyed the chemical composition of Ceres' surface, allowing scientists to update a color map which details Ceres' various geographic features.

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Dawn's instruments detected fewer neutrons near the poles, suggesting a higher concentration of hydrogen. The data hints at the possibility of water ice close to the polar surface.

Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer also detected water in Oxo Crater, a young impact crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere.

"We're excited to unveil these beautiful new images, especially Occator, which illustrate the complexity of the processes shaping Ceres' surface," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission. "Now that we can see Ceres' enigmatic bright spots, surface minerals and morphology in high resolution, we're busy working to figure out what processes shaped this unique dwarf planet."

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