Ceres is the new star of Dawn’s mission in space. The spacecraft that was launched into space on September 27th, 2007 is the first to have orbited two celestial bodies from two solar systems. These are Vesta and Ceres, found in the asteroid belt.
With the 2012 orbiting of Vesta, Dawn provided NASA scientists with invaluable information, being at the first time the first space probe to visit the planetary body. After 14 months of orbiting Vesta, Dawn was redirected to Ceres to gather information on the dwarf planet’s geological system. It is hoped that after this mission, scientists will have a better insight into the activity of the Ceres.
After its arrival at the Ceres orbit on March 6th, May 9th marked the descend of Dawn into the second orbit pattern which is to be completed on June 6th, according to scientists. It is planned that the new orbit is set at 4,400 kilometers altitude, with a completion overall of 3 days.
On its way to descend, Dawn captured captivating images of Ceres. Particularly it was interesting for the scientist team to see close up images of the bright spots previously displayed by Dawn.
Initially it was believed that the luminous spots may represent cryovolcanoes. Dawn deputy project scientist Carol Raymond commented at the time:
“A cryovolcano will likely result in a constructional feature,” said Raymond. “So we’d expect to see a mounded feature on the surface — some sort of deposit around a central vent or a crack. In the case of this crater, what we can say is that the brightest spot is not associated with a ‘positive relief feature’ — i.e. a mound or peak … so a cryovolcano is not at the top of the list for that feature.”
The novelty brought by NASA’s Dawn images consists in that it was observed the biggest luminous spot found in crater in the northern hemisphere is in fact composed of other smaller ones. Although it is still unclear what the nature of these bright spots is, it is now clear that they simply reflect sunlight. The icy surface of Ceres is the perfect medium for such an event.
Christopher Russell, lead investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles announced that:
“Dawn mission scientists reported that the intense bright spots occur because of reflection. The icy surface of Ceres reflects a considerable amount of sunlight”.
Hopefully, with the full descend of Dawn space probe at the 4,400 kilometer altitude, more insight will be provided. For now, the images were captured from a distance of 13,600 kilometers, at a resolution of 1.3 kilometers per pixel.
Image Source: NASA Gov