New details on Ceres seen in Dawn images

January 13, 2016 by Elizabeth Landau
This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Features on dwarf planet Ceres that piqued the interest of scientists throughout 2015 stand out in exquisite detail in the latest images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which recently reached its lowest-ever altitude at Ceres.

Dawn took these images near its current altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres, between Dec. 19 and 23, 2015.

Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres, shows off many fascinating attributes at the high image resolution of 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim, which could be salts, and its flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris. Researchers will be looking closely at whether this material is related to the "bright spots" of Occator Crater. Kupalo, which measures 16 miles (26 kilometers) across and is located at southern mid-latitudes, is named for the Slavic god of vegetation and harvest.

"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.

Dawn's low vantage point also captured the dense network of fractures on the floor of 78-mile-wide (126-kilometer-wide) Dantu Crater. One of the youngest large craters on Earth's moon, called Tycho, has similar fractures. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the was uplifted after the crater formed.

This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows part of Messor Crater (25 miles or 40 kilometers, wide), located at northern mid-latitudes on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

A 20-mile (32-kilometer) crater west of Dantu is covered in steep slopes, called scarps, and ridges. These features likely formed when the crater partly collapsed during the formation process. The curvilinear nature of the scarps resembles those on the floor of Rheasilvia, the giant impact on protoplanet Vesta, which Dawn orbited from 2011 to 2012.

Dawn's other instruments also began studying Ceres intensively in mid-December. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer is examining how various wavelengths of light are reflected by Ceres, which will help identify minerals present on its surface.

Dawn's gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) is also keeping scientists busy. Data from GRaND help researchers understand the abundances of elements in Ceres' surface, along with details of the dwarf planet's composition that hold important clues about how it evolved.

The fractured floor of Dantu Crater on Ceres is seen in this image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The spacecraft will remain at its current altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The end of the prime mission will be June 30, 2016.

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

Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first mission outside the Earth-moon system to orbit two distinct solar system targets. After orbiting Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, it arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft viewed this Cerean crater, which is covered in ridges and steep slopes, called scarps on Dec. 23, 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Explore further: Ceres animation showcases bright spots

More information: More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:
dawn.jpl.nasa.gov
www.nasa.gov/dawn

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9 comments

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torbjorn_b_g_larsson
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 13, 2016
Compared to New Horizons, it is remarkable how hard it is for the Dawn team to discuss their finds in a context! (I have gleaned from the salts that water/ice is a likely component of parts of Ceres crust, is all.)
Tuxford
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2016
Compared to New Horizons, it is remarkable how hard it is for the Dawn team to discuss their finds in a context! (I have gleaned from the salts that water/ice is a likely component of parts of Ceres crust, is all.)

Indeed, they are afraid to speak the obvious: That the bright spots are simply too bright. Released images appear to be filtered to hide this information. And look at how the steep walls simply end at the crater floor, without any gradual transition from landslide fill, etc. The walls appear carved, being remarkably consistent in angle. And the floor appears to flooded the crater basin, but is not itself flat. All things mysterious.

NASA was trumpeting for public interest a year ago, but has grown strangely silent now that the images have become more clear. Oops.
Solon
1 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2016
"The fractured floor of Dantu Crater.."

More crater chains by the looks of it, likely electrical in origin.
matt_s
5 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2016
"More crater chains by the looks of it, likely electrical in origin."

Or, ya know, by processes we actually have verified to work on a scale that large, such as comets breaking up... so no, it is not "likely electrical".
jonesdave
5 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2016
"The fractured floor of Dantu Crater.."

More crater chains by the looks of it, likely electrical in origin.


Lol.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2016
@Tuxford,
"That the bright spots are simply too bright."
Not something one could say about EU 'theorists', however.
Brightness, contrast, levels; learn about image processing.
Jonseer
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
@Tuxford,
"That the bright spots are simply too bright."
Not something one could say about EU 'theorists', however.
Brightness, contrast, levels; learn about image processing.


Ditto. From the looks of their photos, the Dawn team seems to have a part time graphics person, likely an astronomer who knows just enough to fool everyone else into thinking they don't need a pro to do what you suggest.
Jonseer
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
Dantu Crater.." More crater chains by the looks of it.


In low gravity massive objects still are very massive, they just don't weigh very much.

We use the terms as synonyms, because Earth's gravity is great enough that the distinction doesn't matter.

In micro gravity the distinction MATTERS.

Their structure remains intact.

Even if mountain sized ejecta weighs no more than a large rock on Earth, when it comes down after a meteor strike in Ceres micro gravity they end up bouncing, skidding or a mix of both causing the long chains.

On Earth gravity is so strong, that it overcomes the mass of ejecta and is able to obliterate anything ejected from a strike when it returns to Earth the first time.

BECAUSE THEY STILL HAVE THE MASS, as they repeatedly hit or hit/slide on the surface of Ceres the cause another crater.

This goes on until the object finally falls apart, or comes to a rest.

I can't believe the researchers have yet to make this easy to find out
Jonseer
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
To clarify

On Ceres a mountain sized ejecta weighs very little despite still being massive.

When it comes down after a meteor strike in Ceres micro gravity they end up bouncing, skidding or a mix of both causing the long chains.

On Earth gravity is so strong, that the weight of the same sized object overcomes its mass and Earth would probably obliterate anything ejected from the meteor strikes on Ceres that caused the crater chains when it came down the first time.

On Ceres very little weight, but the same mass means that same object would repeatedly hit or hit/slide on the surface of Ceres and cause crater after crater.

This goes on until the object finally falls apart, or comes to a rest.

I can't believe the researchers have yet to make this easy to find out

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