New names and insights at Ceres

New names and insights at Ceres
This color-coded map from NASA's Dawn mission shows the highs and lows of topography on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. It is labeled with names of features approved by the International Astronomical Union. Occator, the mysterious crater containing Ceres' mysterious bright spots, is named after the Roman agriculture deity of harrowing, a method of leveling soil. They retain their bright appearance in this map, although they are color-coded in the same green elevation of the crater floor in which they sit. The color scale extends about 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) below the surface in indigo to 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) above the surface in white. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

Scientists continue to analyze the latest data from Dawn as the spacecraft makes its way to its third mapping orbit.

"The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres. The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust," said Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.

Some of these craters and other features now have official names, inspired by spirits and deities relating to agriculture from a variety of cultures. The International Astronomical Union recently approved a batch of names for features on Ceres.

The newly labeled features include Occator, the mysterious containing Ceres' brightest spots, which has a diameter of about 60 miles (90 kilometers) and a depth of about 2 miles (4 kilometers). Occator is the name of the Roman agriculture deity of harrowing, a method of leveling soil.

A smaller crater with bright material, previously labeled "Spot 1," is now identified as Haulani, after the Hawaiian plant goddess. Haulani has a diameter of about 20 miles (30 kilometers). Temperature data from Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer show that this crater seems to be colder than most of the territory around it.

Dantu crater, named after the Ghanaian god associated with the planting of corn, is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) across and 3 miles (5 kilometers) deep. A crater called Ezinu, after the Sumerian goddess of grain, is about the same size. Both are less than half the size of Kerwan, named after the Hopi spirit of sprouting maize, and Yalode, a crater named after the African Dahomey goddess worshipped by women at harvest rites.

"The impact craters Dantu and Ezinu are extremely deep, while the much larger impact basins Kerwan and Yalode exhibit much shallower depth, indicating increasing ice mobility with crater size and age," said Ralf Jaumann, a Dawn science team member at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin.

Almost directly south of Occator is Urvara, a crater named for the Indian and Iranian deity of plants and fields. Urvara, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide and 3 miles (6 kilometers) deep, has a prominent central pointy peak that is 2 miles (3 kilometers) high.

New names and insights at Ceres
This pair of images shows color-coded maps from NASA's Dawn mission, revealing the highs and lows of topography on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. The map at left is centered on terrain at 60 degrees east longitude; the map at right is centered on 240 degrees east longitude. The color scale extends about 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) below the surface in indigo to 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) above the surface in white. The topographic map was constructed from analyzing images from Dawn's framing camera taken from varying sun and viewing angles. The map was combined with an image mosaic of Ceres and projected as an orthographic projection. The well-known bright spots in the center of Ceres northern hemisphere in the image at right retain their bright appearance, although they are color-coded in the same green elevation of the crater floor in which they sit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dawn is currently spiraling toward its third science orbit, 900 miles (less than 1,500 kilometers) above the surface, or three times closer to Ceres than its previous orbit. The spacecraft will reach this orbit in mid-August and begin taking images and other data again.

Ceres, with a diameter of 584 miles (940 kilometers), is the largest object in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter. This makes Ceres about 40 percent the size of Pluto, another dwarf planet, which NASA's New Horizons mission flew by earlier this month.

New names and insights at Ceres
This image, from Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR), highlights a bright region on Ceres known as Haulani, named after the Hawaiian plant goddess. Each row shows Ceres' surface at different wavelengths. On top is a black-and-white image; in the middle is a true-color image, and the bottom is in thermal infrared, where brighter colors represent higher temperatures and dark colors correspond to colder temperatures. The three images appear slightly flattened in the y-axis and smeared in the upper part due to the motion of the spacecraft. These images were taken at a distance of 2,722 miles (4,381 kilometers) from Ceres and have a resolution of about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) per pixel. They were produced on June 6, 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF

On March 6, 2015, Dawn made history as the first mission to reach a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct extraterrestrial targets. It conducted extensive observations of Vesta in 2011-2012.


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