Dawn Closes in on Ceres

This image is one several images NASA's Dawn spacecraft took on approach to Ceres on Feb. 4, 2015 at a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet. (Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)
This image is one several images NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took on approach to Ceres on Feb. 4, 2015 at a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

NASA Mission Update

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, on approach to dwarf planet Ceres, has acquired its latest and closest-yet snapshot of this mysterious world.

At a resolution of 8.5 miles (14 kilometers) per pixel, the pictures represent the sharpest images to date of Ceres.

After the spacecraft arrives and enters into orbit around the dwarf planet, it will study the intriguing world in great detail. Ceres, with a diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers), is the largest object in the main asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Dawn’s mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft.  JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig.

The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, built by Selex ES, and is managed and operated by the Italian Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

For more information about Dawn, visit:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

  • therealdmt

    Well, at least it’s got that white dot thing I guess…

  • windbourne

    cool mission.
    Sad that it has taken this long.

  • JimNobles

    I hope that white dot thing and the other ones that are showing up are big giant ice patches.

  • Tonya

    Apologies for all that have seen this already, which I’m sure is many.

    http://xkcd.com/1476/

  • Matt

    It seems that Ceres looks like the Saturn moon Tethys, but quite the opposite in surface brightness due to the regolith surface on Ceres’ icy shell, whereas is in case of Tethys the surface is “pure” ice. To remind: In real Ceres is dark as coal (albedo=0.07), even if present pictures make a different impression. Same albedo as Mars moon Phobos.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tethys_%28moon%29

  • DavidR2015

    To me, Ceres looks like it is wearing sunglasses. You can probably see them best in this image:
    http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/PIA19168_hires.jpg

  • DavidR2015

    I reckon the white spot, is the sun reflecting off Ceres bald head.

  • DavidR2015

    The sunglasses are a bit clearer in this gif image, once you know what to look for:
    http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/pia19174.gif

  • DavidR2015

    Thanks for this, I hadn’t seen it. If it does turn out to be a quality control sticker, as depicted in the cartoon, then that could be our first hard evidence, of extra-terrestrial intelligent life.

  • DavidR2015

    I’m hoping that in my lifetime, I see an HSF mission to Ceres. That would be just sooo exciting….

  • Aerospike

    what would you have proposed to speed it up?

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I hadn’t seen it either. LOL!

  • therealdmt

    Good find!

  • therealdmt

    Big giant ice patches would be cool.

  • therealdmt

    Hmm.

  • DavidR2015

    Don’t tell me you’ve never seen “the man in the moon”?

  • DavidR2015

    I’m hoping for an ice volcano. Like an ice patch but a bit more dynamic (on occasions).

  • Which means that the ice mantel of ceres is full of dust.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Does look that way doesn’t it. There’s a few obvious impact craters, which appears to confirm that there is likely no regular surface renewal mechanism. It’ll be interesting to see how “icy” Ceres really is.

  • Matt

    That Ceres contains about 25% water is already a matter of fact, otherwise well-known average density can hardly explain. Other parameters speak for a developed body with a rocky core and an ice mantel/shell. I assume that the hot spots are
    relative fresh craters, where ice is exposed. Similar to Ganymede’s or Callisto’s appearances. Craters in ice become flattened over time, in difference to craters in rock.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…about 25% water is already a matter of fact…”
    I am a little sceptical about astrophysical / astronomical / cosmological “facts”.

  • Matt

    Do you have another proposal? 🙂 Vesta has much higher density as Ceres, because it is made mainly from a iron core and a rocky mantle. There is also some water, but as part of surface minerals.

    The existence of signficant water on Ceres is already proven by measurements by Herschel and other means. It may be possible that the “white” spot is mainly responsible for the determined water flow of 7 kg/s (sublation of ice?).

  • Matt

    Yes, some kind of dark material (clay, rest of impacted asteroids, dust, …).

  • Matt

    “… there is likely no regular surface renewal mechanism.”.

    1.Option: Similar to Callisto, Ceres was “dead” since its formation 4.5 billions of years:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callisto_%28moon%29#mediaviewer/File:Callisto.jpg

    2.Option: It seems that are some larger surface structures (no impact craters), which may be a sign of larger tectonical activities in former times, long time after formation, similar to Ganymede:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganymede_%28moon%29#mediaviewer/File:Ganymede_g1_true_2.jpg

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    No, I am not proposing an alternative theoretical interpretation. The present theoretical interpretation derived by inference from the small amount of available data is reasonable enough. What the present theoretical interpretation derived by inference from the limited data are not, are “facts” – they are best guesses. I am simply drawing attention to the difference “could be, might be, may be” and “fact”.

  • Matt

    I would label measurements and observation of water (at the one hand) and deep founded scientific modeling (on the other hand) not as “guesses”.

    Might be of interest:

    http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2015/pdf/2360.pdf

    http://www.psi.edu/content/tbd-5

    Crater morphologies can tell us something about internal differentiation (probably Ceres is differentiated and not mixed):

    levee.wustl.edu/~mbland/pubs/Bland_13.pdf

  • Matt
  • Matt

    There is this round “hole” at about 30° north and also a white mountain (near equator)

    http://planetary.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/images/9-small-bodies/2015/20150206_ceres_anim_20150204_rotated_aligned_curves.gif