On 10 December, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft attained its closet orbit to the dwarf planet Ceres. Cruising at an altitude of 385 kilometers (240 miles) from the surface, it took some highly detailed images of the cratered body. Resolution on this image is about 35 meters (120 ft) per pixel.
The area shown here features a chain of craters called Gerber Catena located just west of the large crater Urvara. In addition to the large number of craters, you can see several troughs and grooves on the surface. These are common on many solar system bodies, and can be caused by impact stresses and internal geologic (tectonic) stresses.
Dawn will remain in this low orbit, utilizing an array of instruments to conduct surveys. Visible and infrared spectrometers will help identify minerals. Gamma ray and neutron detectors will look for radioactive elements. Both the primary and backup framing cameras will continue taking the highest-resolution data ever from Ceres. With all the new data coming in, scientists will be able to vet their hypotheses about the dwarf planet, and perhaps uncover some new surprises.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA