New NASA images reveal the bright craters on dwarf planet Ceres in stunning detail.
The pictures from NASA’s Dawn mission were taken 240 miles from the planet’s surface offering an incredible view of Ceres’ Haulani Crater. Evidence of landslides is clearly visible, as is a central ridge and smooth material on the crater floor.
NASA notes that an enhanced false-color view gives scientists insight into Ceres.
"Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres,” said Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn framing camera team, based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, in a statement. “The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface.”
NASA says that the crater's polygonal nature (meaning it resembles a shape made of straight lines) is interesting because most craters seen on other planetary bodies, such as Earth, are nearly circular. “The straight edges of some Cerean craters, including Haulani, result from pre-existing stress patterns and faults beneath the surface,” it explained.
The space agency also described Ceres’ 6-mile-wide Oxo Crater, which is the second-brightest feature on the dwarf planet, as a “hidden treasure.” Scientists are examining the signatures of minerals on Oxo’s crater floor, which appear different than 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, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Ceres lies between Mars and Jupiter. The dwarf planet has an average diameter of 590 miles and is the largest body in the main asteroid belt.
Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi spotted Ceres in 1801 and was the first object discovered in our solar system’s asteroid belt.
Initially classified as a planet, Ceres was later called an asteroid, and designated a dwarf planet in 2006.
The spacecraft will remain at its current altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward, according to NASA. The end of the prime mission will be June 30, 2016.
A host of organizations are involved in the Dawn mission. UCLA, for example, is handling overall mission science, while the German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency, and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are involved as international partners.
The Dawn spacecraft was built by Dulles, Va.-based Orbital ATK.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.