NASA video gives viewers 3D view of Ceres' lone mountain and distinctive white spots
NASA has released ananimated 3D flyby constructed from images harvested by the Dawnspacecraft, focusing on two of the dwarf planet Ceres' most fascinatingfeatures – the unexplained bright spots in the newly named Occatorcrater, and a solitary mountain, the peak of which represents one ofthe highest points on the enigmatic body.
Dawn's mission tosurvey and better understand Ceres is now well underway, with lastmonth seeing some of the dwarf planet's most prominent regions andgeological features receiving official designations from theInternational Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU decided to name thefeatures on Ceres after deities selected from a diverse range ofcultures
Dawn is currentlytransitioning to its third mapping orbit, which will seethe spacecraft fly to within 900 miles (1,448 km) of Ceres. Howevereven with Dawn moving ever closer to its final scientific target, andproducing ever clearer images and readings, NASA scientists have beenunable to ascertain the composition of the strange white spotsfeatured in the video.
Whilst the agency wasunable to conclusively put the mystery to rest, it was able to ruleout one possible substance. It was discovered that measurements oflight reflected by the bright spots were not consistent with whatwould be expected should the phenomena be consisted of concentrationsof ice.
With ice looking to bean unlikely source, Dawn's science team will now attempt to rule outsalt as the cause of the bright spots. Other observations by theprobe have revised our approximation of the size of Ceres, with NASAupdating its estimate of the dwarf plant's diameter from 590 miles(950 km) to 584 miles (940 km).
The second point ofinterest in the video release is a lonely mountain (seen above), the formation ofwhich is currently baffling astronomers. The mountain, which looms 4miles (6.4 km) above the surrounding landscape, is characterized bysteep slopes and bright streaks on one side.
"This mountain isamong the tallest features we've seen on Ceres to date," statesDawn science team member Paul Schenk. "It's unusual that it'snot associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle ofnowhere? We don't know yet, but we may find out with closerobservations."
Scroll down for a lookat the Ceres flyby courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory,narrated by mission director Marc Rayman.
Source: NASA JPL