NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., has recently released a three dimensional flyover video of the dwarf planet Ceres which is located in the asteroid belt about 266 million miles away from our planet.
JPL scientists said that they have combined about 80 images of the dwarf planet taken by Dawn spacecraft from about 8,400 to 3,200 miles above its surface.
Dr Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Centre and a Dawn team member explained that the JPL team created a 3-D terrain model based on the images Dawn had acquired so far.
Dr. Jaumann noted that our view on the remote dwarf planet, which is the largest body in the asteroid belt, would become even more accurate as the Dawn mission progresses.
The spacecraft entered its lower mapping orbit on last Wednesday. So, it would now observe Ceres from a 2,700 mile altitude, completing an orbit every three days.
Before reaching Ceres on March 6, Dawn had made observations on the second largest object in the asteroid belt Vesta (Ceres being the largest). Vesta is considered an asteroid though it is in fact a rocky protoplanet. Dawn orbited it for 14 months between 2011 and 2012.
Yet, Ceres is more intriguing. Earlier this month, Dawn beamed back to Earth several puzzling images depicting some bright lights on Ceres’ surface. Scientists could only speculate about their origin. Some said that the bright spots were vapors from volcanoes; others said they were patches of ice reflecting light, while some believed that they were “alien flashes.”
Dr Marc Rayman, head of Dawn mission team, said he believes the spots may mark nothing more than salty deposits on the planet’s surface.
In a blog post on the Dawn mission official blog site, Dr Rayman expressed his hope that Dawn spacecraft’s “sophisticated instruments” and “finer” observations would offer scientists enough scientific material to draw a final conclusion on the origins of the “marvelous mystery.”
Yet, the spacecraft needs to cross the second, third and final mapping orbits before it can obtain the clearest view of the mystery bright white spots.
The bright dots are visible in the flyover video, as well, around the equatorial region.
“For now, the enigmatic lights present an irresistible cosmic invitation to go closer and to scrutinize this strange and wonderful world,”
Dr Rayman went on.
He also hopes that the bright blobs would allow his team to learn more about the structure and geology of the “complex dwarf planet.”
Image Source: Trendytron