NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Captures Closest Images Ever Of Occator Crater

Posted: Jul 5 2018, 11:29pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Captures Closest Images Ever of Occator Crater
The western side of Cerealia Facula was obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on June 22, 2018 from an altitude of about 21 miles. Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL

The new up-close views of Occator crater from Dawn's current vantage point reveals Ceres bright spots in an unprecedented detail

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is maneuvering to its lowest-ever and final orbit around dwarf planet Ceres and has started collecting images and other science data from its new vantage point. At its current orbit, the spacecraft is around 22 miles above the surface of Ceres and reveals the features of Occator Crater in an unprecedented detail. Among the most prominent features are the bright spots in the center of its Occator crater which continue to puzzle researchers ever since Dawn arrived at the dwarf planet.

The bright central area of Ceres' Occator Crater is known as Cerealia Facula while the group of secondary, smaller bright spots in the eastern floor is the Vinalia Faculae. Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer had previously found that bright spots on Vinalia Faculae are mostly composed of sodium carbonates, a material commonly observed on Earth. The center of Occator Crater is the large deposit of sodium carbonate and the closest-ever views of Occator crater, taken on last week, give researchers a deeper perspective on these mysterious features.

"Acquiring these spectacular pictures has been one of the greatest challenges in Dawn's extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition, and the results are better than we had ever hoped," said Dawn's chief engineer and project manager, Marc Rayman. "Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres."

Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and has been studied by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft since 2015. Dawn spacecraft has achieved numerous scientific feats since its launch in 2007. It is the only spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet. Dawn is also the only spacecraft ever to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. Besides Ceres, it studied giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012 and revealed a great deal about geological features and composition of both objects. Dawn will continue to observe Ceres until the remainder of its second extension and allow researchers to answer fundamental questions about the origin of its bright spots.

"The first views of Ceres obtained by Dawn beckoned us with a single, blinding bright spot," said Carol Raymond Dawn's principal investigator at JPL. "Unraveling the nature and history of this fascinating dwarf planet during the course of Dawn's extended stay at Ceres has been thrilling, and it is especially fitting that Dawn's last act will provide rich new data sets to test those theories."

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