NASA Spacecraft Sends Back Close-Ups of Dwarf Planet Ceres

NASA's Dawn mission caught this view toward Ceres' horizon before lowering to an orbit just dozens of miles above the dwarf planet's surface

Dawn Reveals Dramatic New Views of Occator Crater

Newly released photos from June 14 and June 22 could finally give resaerchers a better understanding of the bright spots by offering a more comprehensive look of the Ceres crater floor.

See more images from Dawn's low orbits here.

Project manager Marc Rayman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says "acquiring these spectacular pictures has been one of the greatest challenges in Dawn's extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition, and the results are better than we had ever hoped".

"Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres". The spacecraft was launched by Nasa in September 2007, the first year, and was the first to send data from orbit two celestial bodies.

"We now hope to understand how the bright deposits outside the crater center came about - and what they tell us about Ceres' interior", Andreas Nathues from the institute stated in another statement.

Now, over three years into the mission, as a result of a set of extremely low orbits (which are expected to be the spacecraft's last), we have the closest images yet, taken from around 35 kilometres above the surface! Scientists took a huge crater's occura with salt deposits in the cracks (on the images visible landslides on the edges).

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As impressive as they may be, no one really knows exactly what caused them. "In particular, scientists have been wondering how that material was exposed, either from a shallow, subsurface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures", NASA said in this week's image advisory.

Data obtained by Dawn's other instruments may also unveil the composition of the dwarf planet at a finer scale, which could shed more light on the origins of the materials on the surface. Rayman is providing updates about the spacecraft's discoveries in orbit above the dwarf planet, which can be viewed here: Dawn Journal.

This mosaic shows a prominent mound on the western side of Cerealia Facula.

Before its recent descent, the closest Dawn had traveled to Ceres was 240 miles (385 kilometers).

Dawn was instructed to fire its ion engine-for what could be the last time-last week.

Dawn's principal investigator, Carol Raymond of JPL, chimed in on the spacecraft's current mission at Ceres and its upcoming finale. That technology has allowed Dawn to become the first mission to orbit two solar system destinations outside of the Earth-Moon system - first Vesta and then Ceres - and to do groundbreaking science at these two bodies. "While the extension of Dawn in ceras, it has been exciting to highlight the nature and history of this fascinating dwarf planet, and it is particularly appropriate that Don's final work will provide rich new data sets to test those principles".

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