NASA's Dawn spacecraft sending back close-ups of dwarf planet Ceres

Enlarge Image Dawn caught this view of a landslide on the crater rim on June 16.                  NASA  JPL-Caltech  UCLA  MPS  DLR  IDA

Enlarge Image Dawn caught this view of a landslide on the crater rim on June 16. NASA JPL-Caltech UCLA MPS DLR IDA

Dawn's chief engineer Marc Rayman of NASA waxed poetic about the spacecraft's latest achievements, saying, "Dawn is like a master artist, adding rich details to the otherworldly beauty in its intimate portrait of Ceres".

During the flyby, NASA's spacecraft focused on a site of bright surface deposits in the Occator Crater and the neighbouring region of Vinalia Faculae.

A dwarf planet, Ceres has always been the subject of astronomers' interest. Landslides are clearly visible on the rim.

Dawn's lowest altitude prior to last month was 240 miles, which means that the new data it collected from its current orbit provide a sharper image of the dwarf planet. It skimmed within just 22 miles (35 kilometers) of the surface and zoomed in on a large deposit near the crater's center named Cerealia Facula.

New images taken by Dawn have created an atmosphere of excitement amongst scientists, as they have been waiting for years to take a closer look at Ceres.

A mosaic of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows a prominent mound of bright material on the western side of Cerealia Facula on dwarf planet Ceres. While the name might not ring a bell even among space enthusiasts, the "bright spots" contained within the crater should.

These are the closest-ever images taken of our solar system's only dwarf planet and offer unparalleled insight into the bright spots on Ceres - freaky surface features known as faculae, created by massive deposits of sodium carbonate. But it is unclear exactly where the water came from. They show some of Ceres most interesting features, including large craters and a few geographical oddities that thus far remain unexplained.


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

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.

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

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.

To snap this picture, Dawn fired up its ion engine and plunged to a depth of about 21 miles (34 kilometers) of Ceres' surface.

Dawn mission which was launched in September 2007. This made Dawn the first object to orbit two different bodies beyond the Earth-Moon system. Mission controllers look forward to continued science from Dawn, but they have completed all planned firing sessions of the industrious engines.

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