NASA Spacecraft Sends Back Close-Ups of Dwarf Planet Ceres

From 2011 to 2012, Dawn received data with the closest orbit of the asteroid Vesta and transmitting them to the Ground, and already in 2015, the station has orbited the dwarf planet Ceres, and to date, its orbit tens of kilometers above the surface of the asteroid.

On Monday, NASA released two unique photos captured by Dawn's cameras revealing "dramatic new views" of the Occator Crater on Ceres, a 50-mile (80-kilometer) wide impact site brimming with shiny salt deposits.

Space the Dawn probe has sent images taken from low orbit.

"NASA said that Dawn is approaching the end of its almost 11-year mission".

"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", Marc Rayman, chief engineer and project manager of the Ceres mission, explains.

"Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres".

NASA's Dawn mission will soon come to an end, but before that happens, the spacecraft has been sending back its closest views of Ceres ever, including the sharpest details so far of the dwarf planet's freaky bright spots.

"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.

The probe entered orbit around Ceres in 2015, but in June of this year descended into a low orbit - at a distance of 35 km above the planet's surface.

The first photo, taken on June 14 from an altitude of about 24 miles (39 kilometers) above Ceres, showcases the group of bright spots located east of Occator Crater and collectively known as Vinalia Faculae.

As impressive as they may be, no one really knows exactly what caused them.

While it is very likely that these deposits were left behind behind due to the evaporation of water or sublimation of ice into space, the exact source of that water or ice is still unknown.

And the low-altitude observations obtained with Dawn's other instruments, a gamma ray and neutron detector and a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, will reveal the composition of Ceres at finer scale, shedding new light on the origin of the materials found across Ceres' surface.

The complete catalog of images taken by Dawn from its new orbit is also available online.

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

Close-up image of Cerealia Facula in the middle of Occator Crater.

Before its recent descent, the closest Dawn had traveled to Ceres was 240 miles (385 kilometers). "Last week Dawn fired its ion engine, possibly for the final time", NASA said on a blog devoted to the space probe.

The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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