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Ceres might not blow us away like Pluto. But the small world nestled between Mars and Jupiter is still an intriguing target thanks to the bright spots on its surface. The latest images captured by Dawn give us spectacular new looks at Haulani Crater and Oxo Crater.
First up, Haulani.
An enhanced color view created using data when the Dawn spacecraft was 915 miles above the surface of Ceres. The ejected material (blue) pops thanks to the enhanced color and tell scientists these features are younger than the surrounding area.
This image was taken much more recently as Dawn orbits at just 240 miles above the surface of Ceres. Haulani Crater measures 21 miles across.
There’s evidence of landslides near the crater rim of Haulani Crater. You can also see a prominent central ridge rise from the center of the crater.
“Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface,” said Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn framing camera team.
Haulani Crater’s shape hints at what was going on the surface before whatever made the crater hit. Most impact craters across the solar system look like perfect circles. But Haulani looks more like a polygon. The shape points to pre-existing faults beneath the surface.
The ejected material also tells scientists there may be a mixed layer underneath the surface. Or, whatever created the crater changed the properties of the material around Haulani in some way.
We also got another look at Oxo crater.
It’s smaller than most of Ceres’ named craters, but it could be one of the most important ones. So far, Oxo crater is the only place on Ceres where water has been detected. Oxo also has a feature in its crater rim called a ‘slump.’ It’s where a chunk of material has fallen below the surface.
Dawn’s mission team also noticed the minerals on Oxo’s floor are different than what they find elsewhere on Ceres.
“Little Oxo may be poised to make a big contribution to understanding the upper crust of Ceres,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the mission.
Dawn stays busy
Yesterday morning, Dawn sent new pictures and data back to Earth. Today, it’s back to work. Dawn remains in its low altitude mapping orbit of 230 miles. It will continue snapping images of Ceres’ most prominent features and study materials and the gravity of the dwarf planet.
Dawn’s mission is scheduled to last until June 30. By then, the spacecraft’s supply of hydrazine fuel will reach a point where it can no longer point its instruments at Ceres’ surface or its antenna at Earth.