NASA Scientists Produce New Topographic Maps of Ceres

Researchers at NASA have just released colorful new topographic maps of the dwarf planet Ceres, based on data gathered by the agency’s Dawn spacecraft.

This map shows the highs and lows of topography on the surface of Ceres. It is labeled with names of features approved by the International Astronomical Union. The color scale extends about 5 miles (7.5 km) below the surface in indigo to 5 miles (7.5 km) above the surface in white. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA.

“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,” said Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, a geologist for the Dawn mission.

“The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust,” he said.

The International Astronomical Union recently approved a batch of official names for some of the craters and other features on the dwarf planet.

The features include Occator, the crater containing Ceres’ famed bright spots.

Named after the Roman agriculture deity of harrowing, Occator has a diameter of 60 miles (90 km) and a depth of two miles (4 km).

A crater with bright material, unofficially named Spot 1, is now identified as Haulani.

Haulani, named after the Hawaiian plant goddess, has a diameter of about 20 miles (30 km).

Temperature data from Dawn’s spectrometer show that this crater seems to be colder than most of the territory around it.

A crater called Dantu, after the Ghanaian god associated with the planting of corn, is about 75 miles (120 km) across and three miles (5 km) deep. Crater Ezinu, named after the Sumerian goddess of grain, is about the same size.

This pair of images shows topographic maps of the dwarf planet Ceres. The map at left is centered on terrain at 60 degrees east longitude; the map at right is centered on 240 degrees east longitude. The color scale extends about 5 miles (7.5 km) below the surface in indigo to 5 miles (7.5 km) above the surface in white. The bright spots in the center of Ceres northern hemisphere in the image at right retain their bright appearance, although they are color-coded in the same green elevation of the crater floor in which they sit. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA.

Both are less than half the size of Kerwan, named after the Hopi spirit of sprouting maize, and Yalode, a crater named after the African Dahomey goddess worshipped by women at harvest rites.

“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,” said Dr Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, who is a Dawn science team member.

Almost directly south of Occator is Urvara, a crater named for the Indian and Iranian deity of plants and fields.

The crater is about 100 miles (160 km) wide and 3 miles (6 km) deep. It has a prominent central pointy peak that is two miles (3 km) high.

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