NASA’s Dawn spacecraft obtained a unique close-up image of the Vinalia Faculae in Occator Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reached its lowest-ever and final orbit around dwarf planet Ceres on 6 June 2018 and has been returning thousands of stunning images and other data.
The flight team maneuvered the spacecraft into an orbit that dives 35 kilometres (22 miles) above the surface of Ceres and viewed the Occator Crater, site of the famous bright deposits, and other intriguing regions. In more than three years of orbiting Ceres, Dawn’s lowest altitude before this month was 385 kilometres (240 miles), so the data from this current orbit bring the dwarf planet into much sharper focus.
These low orbits have revealed unprecedented details of the relationships between bright and dark materials in the region of Vinalia Faculae. Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer had previously found the bright deposits to be made of sodium carbonate, a material commonly found in evaporite deposits on Earth. Last week Dawn fired its ion engine, possibly for the final time, to fly nearer Cerealia Facula, the large deposit of sodium carbonate in the centre of Occator Crater.
“Acquiring these spectacular pictures has been one of ...