NASA's Dawn mission offers a closer look at the dwarf planet Ceres

Enhanced color images shed light on the mysteries of Ceres' surface.


If New Horizons is providing us tons of info about Pluto, the Dawn mission is helping us get to know Ceres a lot better. NASA has released new photos and information that the Dawn spacecraft took and gathered in its lowest orbit around the dwarf planet. They've recently found that the brightest area on the celestial body, a spot smack-dab in the center of the Occator Crater, has a dome inside a smooth-walled pit. You can see an image of the area above, which the agency enhanced to highlight the color differences of Ceres' surface.

The scientists think those white, vein-like growths inside the pit could indicate geologic activity in the "recent past," which still means a few million years ago or so. Dawn's other images also show that Ceres doesn't have as many large impact craters as scientists thought, and that there's one particular crater called Haulani that's composed of different materials than the rest of the dwarf planet.

Besides taking photos, the spacecraft used its Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) to measure Ceres' elemental composition. The instrument detected fewer neutrons near its poles, indicating a big amount of hydrogen concentration. It's a possible proof that there's ice -- the same ice made of water we're used to -- in its polar regions. NASA discusses these findings (and more) in the video below, while showing more photos of the largest object in the asteroid belt.