NASA’s Dawn spacecraft team has released new maps of Ceres, showing bright spots and a giant mountain. The maps reveal the compositional and elevational differences across Ceres, and leaving several mysteries for the scientific community and astronomers.
The mysteries of the dwarf planet are set to be discussed at the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France this week. NASA members are also talking about a mysterious observation by the spacecraft — three bursts of energetic electrons from Ceres that could have been produced by the interactions between the dwarf planet and solar radiation. A giant mountain with a 12 mile diameters has been named Ysolo Mons, after an Albanian festival marking the first day of eggplant harvest.
“Ceres continues to amaze us, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energy particle bursts,” said Chris Rusell, Dawn principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The brightest spot on Ceres has been named Occator crater. Astronomers are also puzzled by a 4-mile high cone-shaped mountain. Dawn spacecraft is currently studying the planet from an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kms), and the probe will spiral down to a closer orbit, bringing it within 230 miles (375 km) of the dwarf planet surface.
Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator at NASA’s JPL, Pasadena, California said that the irregular shapes on Ceres are especially interesting, resembling craters they see on Saturn’s icy moon Rhea. They are different from the bow-shed craters seen on Vesta, added Raymond.
Dawn will reach its final and lowest orbit at an altitude of 230 miles (375 kilometers), starting October and continuing till December. The spacecraft is set to capture high-resolution images of Ceres, and would be operational through mid-2016. The mission has pointed out many differences between Ceres and Vesta — both are planetary rocks left over from the solar system’s early days.
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