Dawn delivers new image of Ceres

January 19, 2015, NASA
Dawn Delivers New Image of Ceres
The Dawn spacecraft observed Ceres for an hour on Jan. 13, 2015, from a distance of 238,000 miles (383,000 kilometers). A little more than half of its surface was observed at a resolution of 27 pixels. This animated GIF shows bright and dark features. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org)—As NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on Ceres, new images show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels across, about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December. These are the first in a series of images that will be taken for navigation purposes during the approach to Ceres.

Over the next several weeks, Dawn will deliver increasingly better and better images of the dwarf planet, leading up to the spacecraft's capture into orbit around Ceres on March 6. The images will continue to improve as the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface during its 16-month study of the dwarf planet.

"We know so much about the solar system and yet so little about dwarf planet Ceres. Now, Dawn is ready to change that," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The best images of Ceres so far were taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004. This most recent images from Dawn, taken January 13, 2015, at about 80 percent of Hubble resolution, are not quite as sharp. But Dawn's images will surpass Hubble's resolution at the next imaging opportunity, which will be at the end of January.

"Already, the [latest] images hint at first surface structures such as craters," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

Ceres is the largest body in the main asteroid belt, which lies between Mars and Jupiter. It has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers), and is thought to contain a large amount of ice. Some scientists think it's possible that the surface conceals an ocean.

This is a raw image, taken Jan. 13, 2015, showing the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft on its approach. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles (383,000 kilometers) from Ceres. Credit: NASA

Dawn's arrival at Ceres will mark the first time a spacecraft has ever visited a .

"The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring."

The spacecraft has already delivered more than 30,000 and many insights about Vesta, the second most massive body in the . Dawn orbited Vesta, which has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), from 2011 to 2012. Thanks to its ion propulsion system, Dawn is the first spacecraft ever targeted to orbit two deep-space destinations.

This processed image, taken Jan. 13, 2015, shows the dwarf planet Ceres as seen from the Dawn spacecraft. The image hints at craters on the surface of Ceres. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015. Dawn's framing camera took this image at 238,000 miles (383,000 kilometers) from Ceres.

The Dawn Framing Camera observed Ceres for an hour on January 13 from a distance of 383,000 km (near the average distance of the Moon from Earth). Ceres has a diameter of about 950 km and a rotational period of 9.1 hours, so a little more than half of its surface was observed at a resolution of 27 pixels (0.8 the resolution of Hubble observations a decade earlier). Bright and dark features can be seen in the short video constructed from the Dawn images. The bright spot to the North (up) and two larger dark spots to the South (down) were previously observed by Hubble. The dark extensions near the northern edges of the dark spots are the first new features discovered by Dawn and may represent a continuous structure extending across its mid-latitudes. As Dawn continues its approach to Ceres, it is expected that the nature of these mysterious structures will be revealed and more discoveries made. Credit: Movie courtesy of Lucille Le Corre and Vishnu Reddy, PSI. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

Explore further: Dawn snaps its best-yet image of dwarf planet ceres

Related Stories

Dawn snaps its best-yet image of dwarf planet ceres

December 5, 2014

The Dawn spacecraft has delivered a glimpse of Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, in a new image taken 740,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from the dwarf planet. This is Dawn's best image yet of Ceres as ...

Dawn spacecraft begins approach to dwarf planet Ceres

December 30, 2014

(Phys.org)—NASA's Dawn spacecraft has entered an approach phase in which it will continue to close in on Ceres, a Texas-sized dwarf planet never before visited by a spacecraft. Dawn launched in 2007 and is scheduled to ...

Vesta in Dawn's rear view mirror

September 11, 2012

(Phys.org)—NASA's Dawn mission is releasing two parting views of the giant asteroid Vesta, using images that were among the last taken by the spacecraft as it departed its companion for the last year.

Dawn operating normally after safe mode triggered

September 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —The Dawn spacecraft has resumed normal ion thrusting after the thrusting unexpectedly stopped and the spacecraft entered safe mode on September 11. That anomaly occurred shortly before a planned communication ...

Dawn Engineers Assess Reaction Wheel

August 14, 2012

Engineers working on NASA's Dawn spacecraft are assessing the status of a reaction wheel -- part of a system that helps the spacecraft point precisely -- after onboard software powered it off on Aug. 8. Dawn's mission is ...

Recommended for you

Neutron-star merger yields new puzzle for astrophysicists

January 18, 2018

The afterglow from the distant neutron-star merger detected last August has continued to brighten - much to the surprise of astrophysicists studying the aftermath of the massive collision that took place about 138 million ...

New technique for finding life on Mars

January 18, 2018

Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific ...

North, east, south, west: The many faces of Abell 1758

January 18, 2018

Resembling a swarm of flickering fireflies, this beautiful galaxy cluster glows intensely in the dark cosmos, accompanied by the myriad bright lights of foreground stars and swirling spiral galaxies. A1758N is a sub-cluster ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.