Mysteries and insights about Ceres are being discussed this week at the European Planetary Science Conference in Nantes, France. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is providing scientists with tantalizing views and other data about the intriguing dwarf planet that they continue to analyze.
“Ceres continues to amaze, yet puzzle us, as we examine our multitude of images, spectra and now energetic particle bursts,” said Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles.
dawn ceres topographic map smallA new color-coded topographic map shows more than a dozen recently approved names for features on Ceres, all eponymous for agricultural spirits, deities and festivals from cultures around the world. These include Jaja, after the Abkhazian harvest goddess, and Ernutet, after the cobra-headed Egyptian harvest goddess. A 12-mile (20-kilometer) diameter mountain near Ceres’ north pole is now called Ysolo Mons, for an Albanian festival that marks the first day of the eggplant harvest.
dawn ceres compositional data smallAnother new Ceres map, in false color, enhances compositional differences present on the surface. The variations are more subtle than on Vesta, Dawn’s previous port of call. Color-coded topographic images of Occator (oh-KAH-tor) crater, home of Ceres’ brightest spots, and a puzzling, cone-shaped 6-mile-high (4-kilometer-high) mountain, are also available. Scientists are still trying to identify processes that could produce these and other unique Cerean phenomena.
“The irregular shapes of craters on Ceres are especially interesting, resembling craters we see on Saturn’s icy moon Rhea,” said Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “They are very different from the bowl-shaped craters on Vesta.”
A surprising bonus observation came from Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer. The instrument detected three bursts of energetic electrons that may result from the interaction between Ceres and radiation from the sun. The observation isn’t yet fully understood, but may be important in forming a complete picture of Ceres.
“This is a very unexpected observation for which we are now testing hypotheses,” Russell said. Dawn is currently orbiting Ceres at an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), and the spacecraft will image the entire surface of the dwarf planet up to six times in this phase of the mission. Each imaging cycle takes 11 days.
Starting in October and continuing into December, Dawn will descend to its lowest and final orbit, an altitude of 230 miles (375 kilometers). The spacecraft will continue imaging Ceres and taking other data at higher resolutions than ever before at this last orbit. It will remain operational at least through mid-2016.
Dawn made history as the first mission to reach a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct extraterrestrial targets, when it arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015. It conducted extensive observations of Vesta in 2011 and 2012. Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL 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 ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission More information about Dawn is available at the following sites: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov http://www.nasa.gov/dawn
Topographic Ceres Map with Feature Names II
This color-coded map from NASA’s Dawn mission shows the highs and lows of topography on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres. It is labeled with names of features approved by the International Astronomical Union. The color scale extends about 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) below the reference surface in indigo to 5 miles (7.5 kilometers) above the reference surface in white. The brightest spots on Ceres, located in Occator crater, retain their bright appearance in this map, although they are color-coded in the same green elevation of the crater floor in which they sit. The one named mountain on Ceres is called Ysolo Mons, and lies high in the northern hemisphere at upper left. The topographic map was constructed from analyzing images from Dawn’s framing camera taken from varying sun and viewing angles. The map was combined with an image mosaic of Ceres and rendered as a simple cylindrical projection. Not pictured is Kait crater, which lies on longitude 0. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
This view, made using images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, is a color-coded topographic map of Occator crater on Ceres. Blue is the lowest elevation, and brown is the highest. The crater, which is home to the brightest spots on Ceres, is approximately 56 miles (90 kilometers wide). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Topographic View of Ceres Mountain
This view, made using images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, features a tall conical mountain on Ceres. Elevations span a range of about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the lowest places in this region to the highest terrains. Blue represents the lowest elevation, and brown is the highest. The white streaks seen running down the side of the mountain are especially bright parts of the surface. The image was generated using two components: images of the surface taken during Dawn’s High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) phase, where it viewed the surface at a resolution of about 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel, and a shape model generated using images taken at varying sun and viewing angles during Dawn’s lower-resolution Survey phase. The image of the region is color-coded according to elevation, and then draped over the shape model to give this view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI http://www.europlanet-eu.org/images/epsc2015/dawn_mountain.jpg
Hints at Ceres’ Composition from Colour
This map-projected view of Ceres was created from images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft during its high-altitude mapping orbit, in August and September, 2015. Images taken using infrared (920 nanometers), red (750 nanometers) and blue (440 nanometers) spectral filters were combined to create this false-color view. Redder colors indicate places on Ceres’ surface that reflect light strongly in the infrared, while bluish colors indicate enhanced reflectivity at short (bluer) wavelengths; green indicates places where albedo, or overall brightness, is strongly enhanced. Scientists use this technique in order to highlight subtle color differences across Ceres, which would appear fairly uniform in natural color. This can provide valuable insights into the mineral composition of the surface, as well as the relative ages of surface features. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
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About the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC)
The European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2015 is taking place at the La Cité des Congrès, Nantes, France, from Sunday 27 September to Friday 02 October 2015. EPSC is the major European meeting on planetary science and in 2015, the programme includes more than 55 sessions and workshops, with more than 900 scheduled abstracts for oral presentations and posters sessions. To complement the scientific programme, the city of Nantes is hosting a public exhibition, “Voyages Planétaires”, from 28 September to 04 October in La Cité des Congrès.
EPSC 2015 is organised by Europlanet, and Copernicus Meetings. The conference is sponsored by CNES, Thales Alenia Space and Airbus Defence and Space. “Voyages Planétaires” is sponsored by Nantes Métropole and Region Pays de la Loire.
Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2015 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2015.eu/
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Since 2005, the Europlanet project has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European Citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet 2020 membership organisation, which consists of over 70 institutions linked by a Memorandum of Understanding, oversees the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) Executive Committee. The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI), a €9.95 million project funded under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to integrate and support planetary science activities across Europe, provides financial contributions for students to attend EPSC.
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