NASA Releases Flyby Video of Dwarf Planet 3.1 billion Miles From Earth

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“A new animated video of dwarf planet Ceres, based on images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, provides a unique perspective of this heavily cratered, mysterious world,” NASA announced when it officially released the most realistic video of dwarf planet “Ceres” to date earlier this week.

“Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet. Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home,” said Dawn chief engineer and mission director at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Marc Rayman.

NASA’s latest video of the dwarf planet, the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, was created by combining 80 images from Dawn’s first mapping orbit at Ceres at an altitude of 8,400 mile (13,600 kilometers), as well as navigational images taken from 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) away.

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“We used a three-dimensional terrain model that we had produced based on the images acquired so far,” said Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), in Berlin. “They will become increasingly detailed as the mission progresses – with each additional orbit bringing us closer to the surface.”

NASA notes that in the video, “the vertical dimension has been exaggerated by a factor of two, and a star field has been added in the background.”

The bright white spots, the brightest of which are located inside a crater about 55 miles (90 kilometers) wide, and their strange features are still a mystery to scientists.

Ceres-Bright-Spots

“The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from anything we’ve seen before in the solar system. The science team is working to understand their source. Reflection from ice is the leading candidate in my mind, but the team continues to consider alternate possibilities, such as salt,” Chris Russell, Dawn principal investigator at UCLA, said in a statement.

NASA’s space probe Dawn previously orbited and explored the protoplanet Vesta for 14 months (delivering over 30,000 images between 2011-2012) and has now become the first spacecraft in history to have orbited two deep-space, solar system targets, after arriving at Ceres on March 6, 2015. This also marked the first time that a NASA mission entered orbit around a dwarf planet, one of the last large bodies in our solar system that has so far been unexplored.

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“Studying Ceres allows us to do historical research in space, opening a window into the earliest chapter in the history of our solar system. Data returned from Dawn could contribute significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the solar system formed,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in March.

On June 3, Dawn entered its second mapping orbit, where it will spend the rest of the month observing the dwarf planet from 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above its surface.

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