Ceres' Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Ceres’ Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The space probe Dawn has made its lowest-altitude mapping orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres, providing scientists with spectacular views, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The images were captured from a distance of only 240 miles and show craters marked by bright material, according to a statement issued by JPL, which is managing the Dawn Mission.

“Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles, shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. Smooth material and a central ridge stand out on its floor. An enhanced false-color view allows scientists to gain insight into materials and how they relate to surface morphology,” the statement said.

“This image shows rays of bluish ejected material. The color blue in such views has been associated with young features on Ceres.”

Added Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn framing camera team, based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany: “Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface.”

A hidden treasure on Ceres is the 6-mile-wide Oxo Crater, which is the second-brightest feature on Ceres, the JPL statement said. Only Occator’s central area is brighter.

Dawn science team members are also examining the signatures of minerals on the crater floor, which appear different than elsewhere on Ceres.

“Little Oxo may be poised to make a big contribution to understanding the upper crust of Ceres,” said UCLA-based Chris Russell, principal investigator of the mission.

Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc. of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

The Dawn space probe was launched by NASA in September 2007 to study two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, its second target. It is reported to be the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies, the first spacecraft to visit either Vesta or Ceres, and also the first to visit a dwarf planet, arriving at Ceres in March 2015.

Dawn entered Vesta orbit on July 16, 2011, and completed a 14-month survey mission before leaving for Ceres in late 2012.

—City News Service

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