NASA’s Dawn Probe Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres as a Crescent


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After spending several weeks in the shadow of Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is finally getting a close-up glimpse of the dwarf planet.

For Those Who Don’t Know About CERES : Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is composed of rock and ice, is 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter, and comprises approximately one third of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System and the only object in the asteroid belt known to be unambiguously rounded by its own gravity.

Ceres’ cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by Dawn on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the world that Dawn has gotten since entering Ceres’ orbit on March 6, NASA officials said.

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Dawn was about 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet when the pictures were taken, and mission team members promise even better views of Ceres in the months to come.

Full science observations begin April 23, when lighting conditions will be better for Dawn and the probe will be even closer to Ceres — just 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn will begin moving even lower down on May 9.

In future weeks, NASA hopes the mission will help scientists better understand a key mystery of Ceres: strange bright spots on its surface that, in some cases, have different temperatures than the terrain surrounding them. Mission scientists still don’t know what the spots are made of.

The $466 million Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007, aims to better characterize the solar system’s early days by studying Ceres and Vesta, two intact protoplanets that are the largest denizens of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe spent 14 months at the 330-mile-wide (530-kilometer-wide) Vesta in 2011 and 2012, then headed to Ceres.

Mission scientists said they expect that Ceres, which is about 590 miles (950 km) wide, will be wetter than Vesta, and made of different stuff. Some researchers think Ceres may even harbor liquid water beneath its surface, perhaps making the dwarf planet capable of hosting life as we know it.

Source : NBS-news,Sci-news,Wikipedia

Ceres: NASA Finds Mysterious White Spot On Dwarf Planet


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Ceres- A Dwarf Planet located at Asteroid belt (Click Image to Download)

NASA scientists have been stymied by the discovery of a large, bright white spot on the dwarf planet Ceres, which has been revealed in images from the Dawn spacecraft, set to soon arrive at the unusual celestial object.

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The white spot appeared in a series of photographs of Ceres taken on January 13, according to Space.com. Though the images were released on January 19, just what has caused the anomaly on the dwarf planet, which is located between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt, remains undetermined, according to mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman.

“Yes, we can confirm that it is something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight, but what that is remains a mystery,” he said.

The Dawn spacecraft marks the first mission to Ceres, and is set to arrive at the dwarf planet in March of this year. The spacecraft has traveled 3.1 billion miles over the last seven years, according to Popular Science, pushed toward the asteroid belt at just 450 mph by a set of ion thrusters.

Scientists know precious little about Ceres, which has a diameter of 590 miles and a surface area four times larger than the state of Texas. Astronomers have previously observed water vapor plumes erupting off Ceres, thought to be the product of ice geysers referred to as “cryovolcanos.” Though much of its mass is believed to be composed of water, some speculate that the Dawn mission will determine that the dwarf planet possesses a rocky, barren surface.

Although it is unclear what Dawn will find when it reaches the dwarf planet, the spacecraft already has a mystery to solve in the form of Ceres’ unusual white spot.

Source: www.inquisitr.com