NASA’s Dawn mission investigators provided new details on dwarf planet Ceres and what data Dawn spacecraft beamed back to Earth recently.
Researchers acknowledged that Ceres continues to amaze them as they continue to sift through the troves of data gathered by NASA’s probe. The announcement was made this week during the European Planetary Science Conference in France.
Chris Russell the lead investigator of the mission said that his team now has a color-coded map of Ceres with newly found features and their names that stem from Greek mythology. Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvest so the new formations bear the name of agricultural spirits, gods, and celebrations from all around the globe.
Two features were named after ancient goddesses of harvest – Jaja and Ernutet. A 12-mile wide mountain range was given the name of Ysolo Mons, the eggplant harvest festival for Albanian people.
Another recently unveiled map of Ceres with computer-enhanced colors provides a contrasting view of the features on the dwarf planet’s surface. The coloration, however, is not as intense as on a map of Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt.
The map also features the Occator crater, which is the home of two mysterious white spots made of highly reflective material and a pyramid-shaped 4-mile-tall mountain. Scientists are still debating what material may make the two spots so bright, but NASA recently disclosed that the two spots may be salt deposits.
Carol Raymond, another Dawn mission team member, explained that the craters on Ceres are very similar to those on Saturn’s moon Rhea. They are, however, different from those observed on Vesta.
Dawn’s spectrometer instruments detected a series of bursts of energetic particles scientists believe that they come from the dwarf planet’s interaction with solar radiation. Researchers acknowledged that that is just a hypothesis so they need to study the case further.
“This is a very unexpected observation for which we are now testing hypotheses,”
Dawn is currently mapping Ceres from a 915-mile-high distance above its surface. The probe would need to perform six complete rotations around the planet to map the entire surface. Each rotation takes up to 11 days.
Dawn is slated to reach its lowest orbit by December and be about 230 miles above the ground. The probe will continue to map Ceres at unprecedented detail. NASA hopes the probe to remain fully operation until next summer.
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