A new global color map released highlights the different surface materials found on Ceres.
The images, taken 240 miles (385km) above Ceres' surface, were unveiled at the 47th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, on Tuesday. "We're investigating when this process occurred", Dawn scientist Carol Raymond said during a press briefing about the new observations.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been circling Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt beyond Mars, for about a year now.
The idea is that Ceres has a salty layer of water ice just beneath its surface. The composite image displays in fine detail a gentle dome in the white covered centre of the crater within a walled pit, and well as a host of fractures lining the basin of the feature.
According to the authors of an earlier study, the bright spots are most likely exposed inorganic salts - a type of magnesium sulphate called hexahydrite.
Dawn researchers have built a full map of the dwarf planet, a tool that has enabled them to pick out bright spots and color changes, as well as any zones hosting other rare features such as the cone-shaped mountain Ahuna Mons. On Tuesday, NASA released the most detailed images yet from Dawn - taken just 240 miles above the surface.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI Occator Crater, measuring 57 miles (92 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep, contains the brightest area on Ceres.
High-energy cosmic rays produce neutrons and gamma rays when they interact with materials in the outermost layer of the cerean surface. Indicating a big amount of hydrogen concentration the instrument detected fewer neutrons near its poles.
Data relevant to the possibility of subsurface ice is also emerging from Dawn's Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND), which began acquiring its primary data set in December. As hydrogen is a principal constituent of water, water ice could be present close to the surface in polar regions. Over time, a dome may form, cracking and resurfacing the crust. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
The Oxo Crater also has Dawn's scientists talking water. The team believe that the surface composition surrounding some impact sites, such as the Haulani crater, may have further altered the properties of the exhumed materials.
This crater hosts other bright spots sprinkled throughout the whole area but the shiniest feature is the patch covering the mound. The spacecraft also spent 14 months from 2011-2012 in orbit around massive asteroid Vesta, allowing mission scientists to carry out direct comparisons between the two bodies.
"Our analyses will test a longstanding prediction that water ice can survive just beneath Ceres' cold, high-latitude surface for billions of years", said Tom Pettyman, leader for GRaND and Dawn co-investigator at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, in the statement. Yes, NASA's Dawn Mission offers a closer look at the dwarf planet Ceres.
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