After a brief period of silence (due to its position on the dwarf planet’s night side) NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now sending back images from orbit around Ceres, revealing amazing details of its surface and giving another look at those mystery “bright spots” that have intrigued scientists since their discovery in 2003.
The animation above shows Ceres’ northern hemisphere as it rotated into the sunlight on April 14. The brightest bright spot can be seen in the crater at right – as Dawn was on approach earlier this year it resolved that spot into two distinct regions.
Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what those are, but soon Dawn will be getting an even better look.
Beginning April 23 Dawn will spend about three weeks in a near-circular orbit around Ceres, taking observations from 8,400 miles (13,500 km) above its surface.
On May 9, Dawn will begin to make its way to lower orbits to improve the view and provide higher-resolution observations.
“The approach imaging campaign has completed successfully by giving us a preliminary, tantalizing view of the world Dawn is about to start exploring in detail. It has allowed us to start asking some new and intriguing questions,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer at JPL.
While waiting for a clear signal from the spacecraft, mission scientists weren’t just twiddling their thumbs. They used data from Dawn’s approach to create the first map of Ceres, using enhanced color to highlight surface variations. Check that out here.
Dawn is currently 2.766 AU from Earth, or about 257.1 million miles away. That’s a light-travel time of 23 minutes! Find out where Dawn is now.
Source: Dawn mission page