Last year, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft orbited Ceres, a dwarf planet that resides in an asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. This expedition was the first mission to study Ceres up close, and it produced a collection of detailed images that were sent back to Earth. NASA compiled these images to create a colorful animation that simulates the Ceres flyover and helps identify prominent features of the celestial object, including evidence that suggests the planet is still active.
The short clip is astounding in its detail, identifying prominent craters such as the distinctive Ahuna Mons, a pyramid-shaped mountain that towers over its surroundings on the dwarf planet’s otherwise relatively flat terrain. NASA also added color to the clip to differentiate between the surface materials on the dwarf planet, using blue to highlight the younger parts of the surface and gray to identify the older parts. These younger parts include fresher material such as flows, pits and cracks.
Most of the animation and video work were handled by members of Darwin’s framing camera team at the German Aerospace Center DLR. The clip is comprised of high-resolution images collected during Dawn’s high orbit mapping mission (900 miles) that took place from August to October 2015. Dawn is now performing its last and closest mapping mission, which will take the spacecraft to as little as 240 miles from the planet’s surface.
Ceres has fascinated scientists since it was first discovered in 1801. It was originally thought to be a planet but was officially reclassified as a dwarf planet in the 1850s. It is known for its large craters, tall mountains and the two white spots that are thought to be comprised of salt and frozen water. The mapping of the dwarf planet by the spacecraft was made possible through the collaboration of international space agencies including DARPA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, UCLA, and others.