Dawn Unveils New Bright Features on Ceres in Striking Close-Ups

This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim and walls, which could be salts. Its flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has unveiled a new patch of intriguing bright features in the most recent series of striking close-up images taken just after the probe reached the lowest altitude it will ever reach during the mission.From Dawn’s current altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Ceres, every image taken from now on of the “unique landforms” will be of the highest resolution attainable since the ship will never swoop down closer to the pockmarked surface for science. Dawn arrived at this final orbit known as the Low Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO) in mid-December.And the scientists are absolutely gushing over the data as the much sharper new images stream back to Earth.”Everywhere we look in these new low- altitude observations, we see amazing landforms that speak to the unique character of this most amazing world,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles, in a statement.So, as the New Year dawns for Dawn, scientists learned that their hoped for Christmas wish list was overflowing with presents of photos revealing the most exquisite details ever received from dwarf planet Ceres.Indeed they speculate that the bright features exposed on its rim as seen in the image of Kupalo Crater, shown above, may be salts.The newly released images from LAMO were taken by Dawn’s Framing camera between Dec. 19 and 23, 2015.If the bright features are salts, they may originate result from briny mixtures of ice and salts that apparently reside just beneath certain patches of the pockmarked surface and are the leftover residues from water evaporation – like those seen at Occator crater.So one goal of the team is to determine whether the bright material in Kupalo is at all related to the “bright spots” of Occator Crater.Scientists believe that Kupalo Crater —> Read More