Dawn takes new images of bright spots on Ceres

Mission set to reveal the many secrets of this small world.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Apr 21, 2015
From a distance of 14,000 miles (22,500 km) above the north pole of Ceres, NASA's Dawn spacecraft captured new images of the small planet's two adjacent bright spots, first detected earlier this year.

The images were taken on April 14 and 15 as part of an effort to guide the spacecraft to completion of its first orbit around Ceres by April 23.

Just what the bright spots are remains a mystery. Scientists believe they are deposits of either salts or water ice.

The photos taken were combined by NASA officials to create a video showing the bright spots moving with the planet's rotation.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, but its actual science observations will begin on April 23.

"The approach imaging campaign has completed successfully by giving us a preliminary, tantalizing view of the world Dawn is about to start exploring in detail," saidDawn Mission Director and Chief Engineer Mark Rayman."It has allowed us to start asking some new and intriguing questions."

The spacecraft's first science observations will be taken from a circular orbit approximately 8,400 miles (13,500 km) above Ceres' surface.

On May 9, Dawn will enter a lower orbit to obtain close-up views of the dwarf planet.

It will continue to orbit and study Ceres until it runs out of fuel in June 2016.

Launched in September 2007 at a cost of $466 million, Dawn is the only spacecraft to have orbited two objects beyond the Earth and Moon. Between July 2011 and September 2012, it orbited Vesta, a protoplanet that is the second largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Ceres, the region's largest object, is actually a small planet because it is rounded by its own gravity, a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium. Some scientists suspect it could harbor a subsurface ocean.

Both Ceres and Vesta are unchanged remnants left over from the dawn of the solar system. Studying them could shed light on the formation of all the solar system's rocky planets.



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