NASA has released a global color map of the dwarf planet Ceres showing the highs and lows of topography on the rocky body's surface. The new map comes with new official names for many of the craters and other geological features dotting the surface of the planet, named for religious figures from a variety of cultures approved by the International Astronomical Union.

"The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres," states Dawn science team member and geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston Paul Schenk. "The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust."

The map was created from images collected by Dawn's framing camera since its arrival in early March this year. An animated 3D model of the map was also created by combining the data from the framing camera with an image mosaic of Ceres, which was then projected onto a 3D model of the dwarf planet.

Color-coded topographic map of Ceres, complete with newly-approved feature names(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

With the new map, lower regions extending up to 5 miles (7.5 km) below the standard surface level are shown in indigo, with the highest geological features, up to 5 miles above the surface, displayed in white. The color scale for the animated version of the map is different however, with the lowest areas represented in purple, and the highest in brown.

Dawn recently moved into its third mapping orbit which will see the spacecraft move to within 900 miles (1,448 km) of the planet's surface. The orbiter's closer proximity to Ceres will allow the probe to capture even more detailed observations of the planet's surface, while further examining the confusing white spots contrasting in the newly named Occator crater. Fittingly, Occator in Roman mythology was a helper deity to Ceres, the god of agriculture.

Scroll down for a look at the animated version of the newly released global map of Ceres.

Source: NASA JPL

View gallery - 2 images