Fly Over Dwarf Planet Ceres

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Video Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA, DLR, ESO
Explanation: What would it look like to fly over dwarf planet Ceres? Animators from the German Aerospace Center recently took actual images and height data from NASA’s robotic Dawn mission — currently visiting Ceres — to generate several fascinating virtual sequences. The featured video begins with a mock orbit around the 950-km wide space rock, with the crater featuring two of the enigmatic white spots soon rotating into view. The next sequences take the viewer around the Ceres’ north and south poles, and then over a limb of the dark world highlighting its heavily cratered surface. Here, terrain height on the asteroid belt’s largest object has been digitally doubled, while an artificial star field has been added in the background. The Dawn spacecraftwill likely remain an unusual artificial moon of Ceres long after its mission concludes.

Dwarf Planet, Bright Spot


Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA
Explanation: Now at Ceres, Dawn’s camera recorded this closer view of the dwarf planet’s northern hemisphere and one of its mysterious bright spots on May 4. A sunlit portrait of a small, dark world about 950 kilometers in diameter, the image is part of a planned sequence taken from the solar-powered spacecraft’s 15-day long RC3 mapping orbit at a distance of 13,600 kilometers (8,400 miles). The animated sequence shows Ceres’ rotation, its north pole at the top of the frame. Imaged by Hubble in 2004 and then by Dawn as it approached Ceres in 2015, the bright spot itself is revealed to be made up of smaller spots of reflective material that could be exposed ice glinting in the sunlight. On Saturday, Dawn’s ion propulsion system was turned on to spiral the spacecraft into a closer 4,350-kilometer orbit by June 6. Of course another unexplored dwarf planet, Pluto, is expecting the arrival of a visitor from Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft, by mid-July.

Ceres Seen From NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000) kilometers from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday, March 6.

This image of Ceres was taken by the Dawn spacecraft on March 1, just a few days before the mission achieved orbit around the previously unexplored world. The image shows Ceres as a crescent, mostly in shadow because the spacecraft’s trajectory put it on a side of Ceres that faces away from the sun until mid-April. When Dawn emerges from Ceres’ dark side, it will deliver ever-sharper images as it spirals to lower orbits around the planet.

The image was obtained at a distance of about 30,000 miles (about 48,000 kilometers) at a sun-Ceres-spacecraft angle, or phase angle, of 123 degrees. Image scale on Ceres is 1.9 miles (2.9 kilometers) per pixel. Ceres has an average diameter of about 590 miles (950 kilometers).

Dawn’s mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of acknowledgments,

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA