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NASA's Dawn Probe Beams Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres Back to Earth

05 July 2018

"Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres". Automatic interplanetary station was recently discovered on Ceres, the existence of seasonal processes on the planet and confirm its geological activity. This allowed the Dawn craft the flawless view over the 57-mile-wide (92 km) Occator Crater - the site of the famous bright spots.

Last week, Dawn fired its xenon-fueled ion engine, possibly for the final time, to bend its orbit to fly closer to Cerealia Facula, the large deposit of sodium carbonate at the center of Occator Crater, a 57-mile-wide (92-kilometer) depression carved by an ancient collision with an asteroid or comet, according to NASA.

This mosaic of a prominent mound located on the western side of Cerealia Facula was obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on June 22, 2018, from an altitude of about 21 miles (34 kilometers).

Closest Spacecraft Orbit Dawn's new orbit is also one of the closest shaves of any NASA orbiter.

The spacecraft's new orbit allowed it to have the best look ever at the dwarf planet's weird bright spots as it approached Ceres from a proximity of just 22 miles above the surface. Later observations from the probe helped explain that the mysterious bright sections consisted of sodium carbonate. But how and where exactly did these salt deposits, the experts don't know yet. They show some of Ceres most interesting features, including large craters and a few geographical oddities that thus far remain unexplained. Now, the intrepid Dawn spacecraft, the first one to ever venture in this part of the solar system, has made good on its promises.

Close-up image of the Vinalia Faculae in Occator Crater.

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According to NASA, researchers will employ the spacecraft's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer as well as other instruments (which include a gamma ray and neutron detector as well as a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer) to study the dwarf planet's features in greater detail.

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

Before its recent descent, the closest Dawn had traveled to Ceres was 240 miles (385 kilometers). This orbit is the beginning of the end for Dawn, which was launched in 2007 and arrived at Ceres in 2015.

"The first views of Ceres obtained by Dawn beckoned us with a single, blinding bright spot", Dawn principal investigator Carol Raymond, also of JPL, said in the same statement.

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

NASA's Dawn Probe Beams Photos of Dwarf Planet Ceres Back to Earth