NASA put together this animated version of a fly-over of Ceres using their new low-altitude images from the planet, just 900 miles overhead. So, what are we seeing here that we weren’t before?
There is an unusually good look at those bright spots and how they are laid out across the geography—plus, all the different types of craters that house them. The most interesting thing may be the false color filter that NASA slapped over the whole thing.
Because, essentially, the color filter also acts as an age-map. The bluer patches are younger areas of the surface while those grey-brown areas are older, and as you can see in the video, those colors are pretty swirled together across the surface. In other words, this isn’t a dead dwarf planet, it’s one that was very recently—or is perhaps even still—active.
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Ceres (/ˈsɪəriːz/; minor-planet designation: 1 Ceres) is the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between the orbits of Marsand Jupiter. Its diameter is approximately 945 kilometers (587 miles), making it the largest of the minor planets within the orbit ofNeptune. The thirty-third-largest known body in the Solar System, it is the only one identified orbiting entirely within the orbit of Neptune that is a dwarf planet. Composed of rock and ice, Ceres is estimated to comprise approximately one third of the mass of the entire asteroid belt. Ceres is the only object in the asteroid belt known to be rounded by its own gravity. From Earth, the apparent magnitude of Ceres ranges from 6.7 to 9.3, and hence even at its brightest, it is too dim to be seen with the naked eye, except under extremely dark skies.
Ceres was the first asteroid discovered, by Giuseppe Piazzi at Palermo on 1 January 1801. It was originally considered a planet, but was reclassified as an asteroid in the 1850s when many other objects in similar orbits were discovered.
Ceres appears to be differentiated into a rocky core and icy mantle, and may have a remnant internal ocean of liquid water under the layer of ice. The surface is probably a mixture of water ice and various hydrated minerals such as carbonates and clay. In January 2014, emissions of water vapor were detected from several regions of Ceres. This was unexpected, because large bodies in the asteroid belt do not typically emit vapor, a hallmark of comets.
The robotic NASA spacecraft Dawn entered orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015.Pictures with a resolution previously unattained were taken during imaging sessions starting in January 2015 as Dawn approached Ceres, showing a cratered surface. Two distinct bright spots (or high-albedo features) inside a crater (different from the bright spots observed in earlier Hubble images were seen in a 19 February 2015 image, leading to speculation about a possible cryovolcanic origin or outgassing. On 3 March 2015, a NASA spokesperson said the spots are consistent with highly reflective materials containing ice or salts, but that cryovolcanism is unlikely. On 11 May 2015, NASA released a higher-resolution image showing that, instead of one or two spots, there are actually several. On 9 December 2015, NASA scientists reported that the bright spots on Ceres may be related to a type of salt, particularly a form of brine containing magnesium sulfate hexahydrite (MgSO4·6H2O); the spots were also found to be associated with ammonia-rich clays.
In October 2015, NASA released a true color portrait of Ceres made by Dawn.