Flight Over Occator Crater on Dwarf Planet Ceres

This video shows the intriguing Occator Crater on Ceres, home to the dwarf planet’s brightest area. It may have been produced by upwelling of salt-rich liquids after the impact that formed the crater. The animated flyover includes topographic and enhanced-color views of the crater, highlighting the central dome feature. The animation was produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Original music by Stefan Elgner, DLR.

Where is the Ice on Ceres?

Ceres' surface
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft determined the hydrogen content of the upper yard, or meter, of Ceres’ surface. Blue indicates where hydrogen content is higher, near the poles, while red indicates lower content at lower latitudes. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts — not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

“These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres’ history, forming an ice-rich crustal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system,” said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Water ice on other planetary bodies is important because it is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. “By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system,” Raymond said.

Ceres’ uppermost surface is rich in hydrogen, with higher concentrations at mid-to-high latitudes — consistent with broad expanses of water ice, according to a new study in the journal Science.

“On Ceres, ice is not just localized to a few craters. It’s everywhere, and nearer to the surface with higher latitudes,” said Thomas Prettyman, principal investigator of Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND), based at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

http://www.nasa.gov/dawn

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