Dawn's one year at Ceres: A mysterious mountain on dwarf planet!

Latest images from Dawn spacecraft reveal a mysterious mountain on the dwarf planet Ceres.

Updated: Mar 08, 2016, 06:43 AM IST
Dawn's one year at Ceres: A mysterious mountain on dwarf planet!
Photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Washington: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at Ceres - the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - on March 6, 2015. Since then, it has been mapping the dwarf planet in detail.

Now, latest images from the spacecraft reveal a mysterious mountain on the dwarf planet Ceres, which the Dawn team named as ‘Ahuna Mons’.

This mountain appeared as a small, bright-sided bump on the surface as early as February 2015 from a distance of 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), before Dawn was captured into orbit, explained NASA in a blog post in its official website.

From afar, Ahuna Mons looked to be pyramid-shaped, but upon closer inspection, it is best described as a dome with smooth, steep walls, it added.

Dawn, the first ever spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, has delivered a wealth of images and other data that open an exciting new window to the previously unexplored dwarf planet.

Dawn's latest images of Ahuna Mons, taken 120 times closer than in February 2015, reveal that this mountain has a lot of bright material on some of its slopes, and less on others.

"Ceres has defied our expectations and surprised us in many ways, thanks to a year's worth of data from Dawn. We are hard at work on the mysteries the spacecraft has presented to us," said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for the mission, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Ceres’ mysterious Ahuna Mons is about 3 miles high on its steepest side, and has an average overall height of 2.5 miles.

"No one expected a mountain on Ceres, especially one like Ahuna Mons," said Chris Russell, Dawn's principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We still do not have a satisfactory model to explain how it formed."

Scientists will present new images and other insights about Ceres at the 47th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, during a press briefing on March 22 in The Woodlands, Texas.

(Source: NASA)