Ceres. Best known for the weird spots dotting several of its craters. Now, NASA is giving us a look of Ceres like never before. A simulated flight over its surface and many craters. The colorful (yep, I’ll touch on that in a second) animation is based on images captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.
What’s this about color? Isn’t Ceres a drab, gray rock? It is, but even the dullest rock shows some color depending on how you look at it. The animation above was captured in enhanced color. It helps scientists, and us, see the faint differences in surface materials. The visual differences may be faint, but the color also tells scientists about Ceres’ past and present.
You see the blue shades on parts of Ceres’ surface? Scientists believe these areas are younger and are home to fresher material than the rest of the dwarf planet. It’s most prevalent in the craters and on the slopes of Ahuna Mons.
“The simulated overflight shows the wide range of crater shapes that we have encountered on Ceres. The viewer can observe the sheer walls of the crater Occator, and also Dantu and Yalode, where the craters are a lot flatter.” said Ralf Jaumann, a Dawn mission scientist at DLR (the German Aerospace Center).
I’m just glad we finally get to see more of Ceres’ other craters. Occator stole all the spotlight thanks to its cluster of bright, white spots.
The craters of Ceres
Occator is the one most of us know about. Even if you don’t know its name, you know what’s inside it. Bright, white spots. What are they? Scientists believe the white spots are salt. A study published late last year said the spots were consistent with hexahydrite, a type of magnesium sulfate.
What about Occator itself? The crater is 60 miles (90 kilometers) in diameter. The central pit, where all the bright spots are, is about 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide and 0.3 miles (0.5 kilometers deep). What appears to be fractures stretch across the pit. And, there’s evidence of a central peak inside the pit.
The crater, named after the Roman god of the harrow, is believed to be one of the youngest craters on Ceres at about 78 million years old.
One of Occator’s most interesting features is what appears to be a diffuse haze near the surface of the crater floor. According to the study authors, the haze is present at noon local time but goes away at dusk and dawn. Here’s an image from Dawn showing what looks like haze.
Ikapati isn’t as well studied as Occator, but you can see the flat plains on the southern half in the image above and the video. (the top portion of the crater is cut off at the top of the image). Ridges (colored blue in the video above) towards the middle point to this area being younger than the surrounding area.
Ikapati is named after the Philippine goddess of the cultivated lands and has a diameter of 31 miles (50 kilometers).
Urvara is the third-largest crater on Ceres (confirmed crater) with a diameter of 101 miles (163 kilometers). It’s named after an Indian and Iranian deity of plants and fields. The crater is best known for a mountain ridge right smack in the middle of the crater. Here’s another look (top right).
Named after the Hawaiian goddess of plants, Haulani is home to ‘Spot 1,” one of the many bright spots seen by the Dawn spacecraft. It has a diameter of 19 miles (31 kilometers).
Haulani also sports a central ridge with streaks of bright material lining its walls. You can really see this bright material (most likely exposed salts) on the upper left edge of the crater.
The largest confirmed crater on Ceres at 168 miles in diameter (271 kilometers). Yalode is named after the Dahomeyan deity of the yam harvest. Yalode has a much more shallow depth compared to other craters like Dantu.
Dantu’s floor is covered in fractures and may have formed from cooling impact melt. Another possibility is they formed when the crater floor was uplifted after it formed. The crater has a diameter of 78 miles (126 kilometers) and is named after the Ghanaian god of planting.
I know, this isn’t a crater. Ahuna Mons is a mountain that rises 20,000 feet high at its peak. How did it form? Scientists aren’t sure. And there doesn’t appear to be another mountain like it on Ceres. Bright streaks run down its slopes and look similar to the bright spots seen in various craters on the dwarf planet.
The mountain is named after the Sumi Naga’s traditional post-harvest festival.
Dawn continues to study and image Ceres in its final mapping orbit at just 240 miles above the dwarf planet’s surface.
Image credits: NASA