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NASA releases new map of Ceres

David Dickinson, Correspondent
Aug 5, 2015, 2:55 UTC

Sen—We rarely get to set eyes on a map of a brand new world. Researchers recently released a new chart of dwarf planet Ceres, including color-coded elevation relief and feature names.

The fantastic, freshly revealed world of Ceres never fails to impress. At 588 miles (946 km) across, Ceres is 27 per cent the diameter of our Moon, and just 1.3 per cent as massive. The color-coded map shows relief differences ranging over nine miles (15 km) in elevation, from red highlands to blue crater floors.

The map combines images from the Dawn's framing camera, and researchers compared Sun angles at various vantage points to make the first true elevation map of Ceres.

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Ceres topographic globe animation. Credit: NASA

“The craters we find on Ceres… are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are the same size and density as Ceres. The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust,” said Dawn science team member and geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute Paul Schenk in a statement.


A false color elevation map of Ceres, including new feature names. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The map also includes new names for features on the surface of Ceres. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) approved these names for features, which are mostly craters: Here we find Ezinu Crater, named after the Sumerian goddess of grain, and Asari Crater, named after the Syrian god of agriculture. The IAU naming rules for features on Ceres require the names to be based on deities related to agriculture found in various international cultures.

There’s also another newly named feature which has gained recent interest since Dawn first spied Ceres. The crater, now known as Occator, hosts curious bright white patches in its center. Sixty miles wide and two miles deep, Occator was named by researchers after the Roman deity of harrowing.

The Dawn spacecraft made history earlier this year when it became the first spacecraft to orbit two separate worlds beyond the Earth-Moon system, first Vesta, and now Ceres.

Dawn will reach its third science orbit in mid-August, imaging Ceres from just 900 miles (1450 km) above its surface. At three times closer than its previous science mapping orbit, we can expect soon to see the brave new world of Ceres in better resolution than ever before.