A small spacecraft is shooting through the Solar System, dwarfed by the impressive objects in our universe – stars, planets and dwarf planets. Even though the spacecraft, named Dawn, is tiny in comparison to these objects, it has still sent back gorgeous, detailed photographs mapping out the caverns and craters on some of these cosmic beauties. Dawn's latest glorious image? The most detailed map yet of the dwarf planet Ceres.
Ceres can be found between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt. It is made of rock and ice, including water ice.
The map, which has been color-coded based on height, shows off its diverse topography. From mountain peaks as high as 15 kilometers (9 miles), depicted in purple, plummeting all the way down to the bottom of six-kilometer-deep (3.7-mile-deep) craters, represented in brown.
Mapped out topography of Ceres alongside names of regions. NASA.
Some of the features on the dwarf planet have now been officially named and approved by the International Astronomical Union. The names are taken from spirits and deities that are related to agriculture from around the world – from Asari (the Syrian god of agriculture) to Zadeni (an ancient Georgian god of bountiful harvest). This unites the features on Ceres with the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, after whom the planet is named.
The feature that has been rustling up the most speculation of late is Occator. There are mysterious bright spots within this crater, and no one is certain what is causing them.
Other craters of interest are the Dantu (the Ghanian god associated with planting corn) and Ezinu (the Sumerian goddess of grain). These two craters are about the same size: an impressive 120 kilometers (75 miles) across and five kilometers (three miles) deep. These two craters are only about half the size of two larger craters: Kerwan (Hopi spirit of sprouting maize) and Yalode (African Dahomey goddess worshipped at harvest rites). Ralf Jaumann, a Dawn scientist, commented on the differences between these two sorts of impact craters: "The impact craters Dantu and Ezinu are extremely deep, while the much larger impact basins Kerwan and Yalode exhibit much shallower depth, indicating increasing ice mobility with crater size and age."
"The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres. The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust," said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member.
You can check out the enchanting video of Dawn's approach to Ceres below.
Central Image: Bright spots on Ceres. NASA.