NASA Releases New Information about Dwarf Planet Ceres

Sunday, March 27, 2016 - 20:25

Investigations about asteroid or dwarf planets in the border of the solar system have entered a new phase with scientists releasing new information about the dwarf planet Ceres.

According to NASA, the orbiter spacecraft Dawn has sent new data in its flight over Ceres, revealing a number of intriguing areas in the form of bright contrast spots on images from various geographical features of the planet.

Scientists recently found that the brightest area on Ceres, which is a spot directly in the center of the Occator Crater, has a dome inside a smooth-walled pit. The scientists think that the white, vein-like growths inside the pit could indicate geologic activity in the "recent past" few million years ago. The blue areas in the images show materials younger than the rest of the surface.

Dawn's other images also show that Ceres does not have as many large impact craters as scientists thought, and that there is one particular crater called Haulani that is made up of different materials than the rest of the dwarf planet.

"Why they are so prominent is not yet understood, but they are probably related to the complex crustal structure of Ceres," said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, about the craters and crater-like features of the dwarf planet.

Other instruments on board Dawn began an intense period of observations this month. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer will help identify minerals by looking at how various wavelengths of light are reflected by the surface of Ceres. The gamma ray and neutron detectors are also active. By measuring the energies and numbers of gamma rays and neutrons, two components of nuclear radiation, they will help scientists determine how abundant the elements on Ceres are.

"As we take the highest-resolution data ever from Ceres, we will continue to examine our hypotheses and uncover even more surprises about this mysterious world," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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