Spacecraft zooms in on lonely Ceres mountain
NASA's Dawn spacecrafthas succeeded in capturing the most detailed views to date of thesolitary mountain nicknamed Ahuna Mons, discovered on the dwarfplanet Ceres. The images that were captured by Dawn in December 2015 will hopefully help shed light on some of the many mysteriessurrounding the mountain, including its as-of-yet unknown creationprocess.
So unusual was themountain compared to the surrounding terrain, that it was detectedbefore the spacecraft had successfully made orbit around the dwarfplanet on March 6, 2015, appearing as a small, bright bump from Dawn'sperspective 29,000 miles (46,000 km) distant from the rapidly-approaching planetoid.
For a full year Dawnhas been performing a delicate ballet as it systematically reducedits distance to Ceres, culminating in the spacecraft maneuvering into its third and final mapping orbit. Orbiting at a height of roughly 240 miles(385 km) above the dwarf planet's surface, the spacecraft was able tocapture Ahuna Mons with a resolution approximately 120 times timesgreater than the first image that led to the discovery of thesolitary mountain in February 2015.
The top-down image ofAhuna Mons represents a composite created from a number of separate shotstaken with a resolution of 120 ft (35 m) per pixel. The finishedpiece highlights the unusual form of the mountain, as well as thevarying coverage of brighter material markingits sides. Dawn's science team is not yet sure whether the strangemarkings represent the same bright substance present in the now famousOccator crater.
A side-on perspectiveof Ahuna Mons was also included in the release, with a second 3Dversion of the same image provided for those with anaglyph 3Dglasses.
NASA believes that AhunaMons may not be as unique as it first appeared, with the agencynoting several other locations sharing similar geological features, though none as well-formed ordistinctive as the lonely mountain.
"Ceres has defiedour expectations and surprised us in many ways, thanks to a year'sworth of data from Dawn," states Carol Raymond, deputy principalinvestigator for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,Pasadena, California. "We are hard at work on the mysteries thespacecraft has presented to us."