NASA Spacecraft Gets Breathtakingly Close to Dwarf Planet

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A dwarf planet, Ceres has always been the subject of astronomers' interest. Scientists took a huge crater's occura with salt deposits in the cracks (on the images visible landslides on the edges). In June, it reached its lowest orbit yet, skimming the surface from just 22 miles (35 kilometres) up. In more than three years of orbiting Ceres, Dawn's lowest altitude before this month was 240 miles (385 kilometers), so the data from this current orbit bring the dwarf planet into much sharper focus.

From 2011 to 2012, Dawn received data with the closest orbit of the asteroid Vesta and transmitting them to the Ground, and already in 2015, the station has orbited the dwarf planet Ceres, and to date, its orbit tens of kilometers above the surface of the asteroid. The photographs revealed unusual bright spots on the surface, which drew immediate attention from the scientific community. Scientists are wondering how they got there, suggesting they are "either from a shallow, sub-surface reservoir of mineral-laden water, or from a deeper source of brines (liquid water enriched in salts) percolating upward through fractures".

These are the closest-ever images taken of our solar system's only dwarf planet and offer unparalleled insight into the bright spots on Ceres - freakish surface features known as faculae, created by massive deposits of sodium carbonate.

"We now hope to understand how the bright deposits outside the crater center came about - and what they tell us about Ceres' interior", Andreas Nathues from the institute stated in another statement.

The wealth of information contained in these images, and more that are planned in the coming weeks, will help address key, open questions about the origin of the faculae, the largest deposits of carbonates observed thus far outside Earth, and possibly Mars.

NASA engineer and Dawn project manager Marc Rayman, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the photos are the culmination of an incredible venture across the solar system.

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Close-up image of the Vinalia Faculae in Occator Crater.

Launched in September 2007, the Dawn mission cost NASA roughly $467 million and had a very unique goal.

To snap this picture, Dawn fired up its ion engine and plunged to a depth of about 21 miles (34 kilometers) of Ceres' surface.

"The first views of Ceres obtained by Dawn beckoned us with a single, blinding bright spot". "While the extension of Dawn in ceras, it has been exciting to highlight the nature and history of this fascinating dwarf planet, and it is particularly appropriate that Don's final work will provide rich new data sets to test those principles".

The complete catalog of images taken by Dawn from its new orbit is also available online.

Dawn was constructed by Orbital Sciences and is operated by JPL, which is located in Pasadena, California.

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