A new NASA image release is granting the highest-resolution view of the now-famous Occator crater – the most distinctive geological feature on the dwarf planet Ceres to date. The images were snapped by NASA's Dawn spacecraft at a height of 915 miles (1,470 km) as it continues to observe Ceres from its third mapping orbit.
The newly-released image has a resolution of 450 ft (140 m) per pixel, granting Dawn's science team a view roughly 10 times better when compared to images the probe returned upon first arriving at the planet in April.
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Ordinarily the contrast between the incredibly bright white spots and the relatively dull surface of the dwarf planet would be much more extreme. To lessen the effect, two images – one of the fully-exposed white spots, and another edited shot of the surface – were combined to create the composite image seen at the top of the page.
"Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape," states Dawn's chief engineer and mission director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery."
Dawn's science team has also taken the time to collate data collected on the Occator crater into a 3D representation of the impact site. The data used to construct the animation was collected over two 11-day mapping cycles, totaling 28 orbits. The animation emphasizes geographical characteristics that are hard to pick out on a static image, such as the mile-high (2 km) crater rim, which reaches an almost vertical angle at points.
Over the next two months, Dawn will map the entirety of Ceres a further six times.