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New images from Dawn mission to Ceres

Dawn spacecraft has now moved to within about 900 miles (1,500 km) from the dwarf planet Ceres. See some early images from its new, closer orbit.

View larger. | Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 19, 2015.

View larger. | Sharpened, enlarged crop of the mountain 1 Ceres. Original image below. Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 19, 2015. Dawn was 910 miles (1,470 km) from Ceres at the time. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Enjoying the Dawn mission to dwarf planet Ceres? Welcome to HAMO (High Altitude Mapping Orbit). Dawn has now moved to within about 900 miles (1,500 km) from Ceres. This phase of the mission has just begun and promises to reveal even more about this little world. Here are some early images from that closer orbit.

The images on this page were released yesterday (August 25, 2015). The first two show an area close to Ceres’ equator, looking straight down. What you are seeing here is a curious 6,000-meter / 19,400-foot tall mountain, seen from directly overhead. The mountain is 9 miles (15 km) wide. The summit area is clearly very rough, not so obvious from the much higher Survey Orbit, which Dawn just left (see the various orbits on the diagram below). The streaks do not extend around the entire base, an areas on the slopes on the south east flanks are cratered.

I have rotated the images so North is top.

What does show is that the streaks do not appear to end with slumped material at the mountain’s base. Perhaps LAMO (Low Altitude Mapping Orbit) – beginning mid-December, 2015 – will show if this is really so.

By the way, Ceres itself is only 599 miles (965 km) wide.

Image acquired August 19, 2015 via Dawn mission to Ceres

View larger. | Full image from which the crop above was taken. Image acquired August 19, 2015 via Dawn mission to Ceres

A degraded crater on Ceres.

A degraded crater on Ceres. Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 19, 2015. Dawn was 910 miles (1,470 km) from Ceres at the time. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

View larger. | Here is a 143-km / 89-mile-wide cratered area within the northern hemisphere on 1 Ceres. There is a nice pair of overlapping craters and to the top left what appears to be an old crater with fresher intruding frozen impact melt.

View larger. | Here is a 143-km / 89-mile-wide cratered area within the northern hemisphere on 1 Ceres. You are seeing a nice pair of overlapping craters and to the top left what appears to be an old crater with fresher intruding frozen impact melt. Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 21, 2015. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

View larger. | Here a large portion of the 163-km / 101-mile-wide Urvara Crater within Wayu Quadrangle in the southern hemisphere on 1 Ceres. I have rotated the images so north is top.

View larger. | Here a large portion of the 163-km / 101-mile-wide Urvara Crater within Wayu Quadrangle in the southern hemisphere on 1 Ceres. I have rotated the images so north is top. Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 19, 2015. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

View larger. | A 143-km / 89-mile-wide cratered area within the northern hemisphere on 1 Ceres.

View larger. | A 143-km / 89-mile-wide cratered area within the northern hemisphere on 1 Ceres. Image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on August 21, 2015. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Many craters on Ceres appear doubled, much like the paired craters also seen on 4 Vesta, as well as much smaller asteroids 243 Ida and 253 Mathilde. Perhaps double impactors are more common within the asteroid belt?

To me, there appears to be a lot of the Saturn moon Tethys and the Uranus moons Umbriel and Oberon about 1 Ceres.

More images and insights to come!

Dawn mission science orbits around dwarf planet Ceres.  Image via NASA Dawn mission.

Dawn mission science orbits around dwarf planet Ceres. Image via NASA Dawn mission.

Bottom line: The Dawn spacecraft has now moved to HAMO (High Altitude Mapping Orbit), only about 900 miles (1,500 km) from the dwarf planet 1 Ceres. Here are some early images from that closer orbit.

Andrew R. Brown

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