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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

A flight over Ceres!

Above: Occator crater with its mysterious bright patches. Courtesy of NASA.

The Dwarf planet Ceres is known to space exploration as king of the asteroids - and, now that the Dawn space probe has begun exploring it in earnest, as a world that throws up two mysteries for every one that is solved: From the strange bright patches and volcanic looking terrain, to totally unexpected mists over Occator crater, to chemical evidence suggesting it might be an immigrant from the cold outer solar system, Ceres seems determined to both surprise us and keep its secrets as long as it can.

Above: A size comparison between Ceres, Earth, and the Moon.

And long it may keep them, as this small and distant wold is unlikely to be visited by humans for many decades at least. But this week Dawn's framing camera team at the German Aerospace Center, DLR, gave the whole world a brief taste of what being on such a mission might be like, when they released this high quality simulation, based on Dawn's data, of a flight over Ceres:

The virtual flight path was picked to give an impression of how the Cerean terrain changes from place to place."The simulated overflight shows the wide range of crater shapes that we have encountered on Ceres. The viewer can observe the sheer walls of the crater Occator, and also Dantu and Yalode, where the craters are a lot flatter," said Ralf Jaumann, a Dawn mission scientist at DLR.

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