Occator Crater is the mesa or large butte with a flat top located in the lower right hand corner of the image. It has been puzzling scientists since Dawn approached Ceres because its brightness was so intense that people were speculating if light could somehow actually be emanating from within the body. Many details are now visible in the boundaries between the bright and dark material but it is not yet clear if the lines are runoff, splatter or some other process yet to be understood.
We missed this amazing image (March of 2016) of the enigmatic Occator Crater on Ceres by the Dawn spacecraft. Scientists studying Ceres’ bright spots determined the spots’ age are only about four million years, some 30 million years younger than Occator crater itself. This suggests that there have been eruptive outbursts of sub-surface salt-water on Ceres over a long period of time and could even still be happening today.
That is an amazing discovery considering that the size of Ceres is smaller than anyone would have expected to have the ability to generate internal heating enough to create such processes.
Original image posted by JPL.
I still cannot believe Pluto has this much variance in it’s geology. I truly expected New Horizons to arrive and find something more like Dione. No disrespect intended to one of Saturn’s own, but you don’t want to travel nearly 10 years to uncover a frozen and cratered dirty snowball. Even while Hubble was hinting at something amazing before we finally arrived, I still expected to be underwhelmed.
New Horizons has revealed one of the most diverse bodies in our Solar System which presents an intriguing mystery. How does an object so far from the warmth of the sun, and too small to generate it’s own internal heat manage to create floating mountains, smooth icy plains and truly wild textures that we are used to seeing on small bodies orbiting too close to giant planets?
Even more exciting… we now know that size and distance may not matter as much as we had thought. All of the other Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt may each be just as amazing as Pluto has been revealed to be. When do we start planning for a New Horizons 2 visit to Eris?
For two days only, buy one of our limited edition Robotic Spacecraft Series Prints and get the full suite of vinyl stickers for free. This is a total savings of $24 and would serve as a great stocking stuffer to follow the presentation of the print.
I have never seen anything like this. What we are seeing are many different kinds of materials in two image frames (mosaic by Emily Lakdawalla). The shiniest textures seen here are more than likely water ice, the darker material may be tholins (a theoretical substance predicted by Carl Sagan himself) and frozen carbon monoxide — but we don’t know for sure.
Thus far, Pluto is so unexpected and so many times more exotic than I would have ever guessed.
Shown above is an early best guess at Pluto’s actual colors. The “color” image that has saturated all forms of media is actually just a monochrome with the colors seen earlier in the mission laid over it. So that is really just an artificial duotone. Shown above is a gorgeous color image with best-guesses at Pluto’s true colors based upon chemical maps made by New Horizons.
The images coming back so far from Pluto look incredible. For the first time since Voyager uncovered exactly how exotic the moons of Jupiter really were — we are seeing things at Pluto that few saw coming. Some images show Pluto looking like a real-life version of a sci-fi illustration from the 1960s, with all kinds of lines, circles and spots of which we still know very little about.
Shown above is the Chop Shop Studio poster celebrating New Horizons at Pluto and is being updated almost every day when new images are released from the mission. This is the third update from July 11 data. The design along with two other missions is being crowd-funded on Kickstarter right now and you can still vote on which missions make the cut for posters #8 and #9.
This is the last visit of this kind for the forseeable future. Apart from a few of the other larger Kuiper Belt objects, this is the only planned exploration of a major body in our solar system left that has never been seen by human eyes before. Every planet, all the major moons and the most significant asteroids have all been revealed if not globally mapped. There would have to be a new mission planned to Eris, Makemake or to one of the other Kuipers to see something like this again. Even if a mission like that was approved, it would be years of development plus another 10 year slog before arriving at such distant targets.
It is worth noting that as soon as 2017, New Horizons is expected to make another flyby of a much smaller Kuiper Belt object and then again in 2019 — with a possibility of a third if one can be found. So even after Pluto is over… there will still be a few encores.
There are now several white spots appearing on Ceres as Dawn makes it’s final approach to the dwarf planet. Any knee-jerk expectation say that there is merely a brighter material beneath the surface that was revealed by ancient impacts. Why the surface is darker and the underneath material is brighter (see Iapetus) would be a mystery… but perhaps they still may be related to the active geysers scientists have previously predicted due to data provided by The Herschel Infrared Space Observatory.
We shall soon see.
The Dawn spacecraft is approaching Ceres and has begun observations, including this first animation. Ceres is a dwarf planet that resides within the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter and is the last unexplored spherical body (that we know of) that resides within the orbit of Neptune.
Earlier observations by the Herschel Infrared Space Observatory have suggested the presence of water vapor in the form of plumes near the surface of Ceres. There is even the chance that this comparatively tiny body may somehow maintain a tenuous atmosphere. If any of this turns out to be the case, we currently have no models to suggest how geological activity could be generated on such a small world. We have known for a very long time that internal heating and geological activity is common on bodies whose mass is large enough to create their own internal furnaces (Earth, Venus and gas giants like Jupiter). More recently we have discovered smaller geologically active worlds that generate internal heat from tidal forces inflicted by their host planet and neighboring moons (Io, Enceladus, probably Triton). But we have never seen such a small isolated body such as Ceres manage to do anything but display ancient craters and fracturing from cataclysms dating back to the formation of the solar system.
Logic tells me to expect to see a grey cratered ball when Dawn goes into orbit around Ceres this Spring, but the experience of Voyager and Cassini tells me not to expect anything but the unexpected.
Also, what is that bright dot? It has been in every image of Ceres since Hubble started observations to support the coming encounter.
There is so little to see here, but to think that New Horizons arrives at this impossibly distant world next year is unreal. Other than some fairly minor bodies, after Pluto and Ceres are visited in 2015 — every major target of interest in the solar system that most of us grew up with will have been visited at least once by robotic spacecraft.
Especially if you have kids with an appreciation for science. These guys regularly do great animations that explain complex science — appropriate for all ages. They also promise a series of cool videos about cool moons in our solar system. So far they have only covered our own, next up… Mars’ Deimos and Phobos.
You Are The Sun is the latest space themed tee by Chop Shop Store. Following on iconic tees that collected various deep space missions and historic Earth orbit missions, this new design draws a new picture of The Solar System as we know it today, complete with Carl Sagan’s pale blue dot.
With your head as a stand-in for The Sun — the tee includes all 8 planets, 7 major moons, The Asteroid Belt and even details little Pluto lost among countless Kuiper Belt objects. We are now providing yet another link here to get it for Men on American Apparel 2001 or Tultex tees and for Women on American Apparel 2102 tees.
Recent Hubble images of Pluto are showing us a world that may be unexpectedly active on the surface. Such a small object so far away that takes so very long to revolve around the sun should not have very many ways to exercise such rapid changes upon its surface. Scientists studying Pluto say that the color shape shifting seen in just two years is shockingly dramatic and they know these changes are not some image artifact as Charon (Pluto’s dwarf planet partner) remains unchanged during the same period. Plainly, there is something happening on Pluto that is not taking place on another nearby body.
I expected the arrival of New Horizons at Pluto in 2015 to reveal to us another grey frozen cratered world, but instead… the encounter looks like it might be quite a bit more exciting than expected. I cannot wait to see this black, orange and active world up-close and hopefully New Horizons will also reveal to us what processes could possibly be causing such changes to take place. See Centauri Dreams for more.
Just for old times sake, I made the effort to post some kind of imagery of Pluto to complete the “classic” planetary set most of us have grown up with. For years scientists have pressed NASA to prioritize a mission to the only planet left in the solar system that has yet to be visited by any kind spacecraft and finally one was approved. Lucky for Pluto (and us) that the New Horizons mission was launched in January and is on its way to a rendezvous with Pluto in 2015. In a strange turn of events (only a few short months after launch) Pluto was demoted from planetary status to dwarf planet status… which politically may have nixed the entire mission as I am sure some of the budget hawks that make these kinds of decisions were convinced of the mission's importance by others stressing that it was the sole unvisited planet in the solar system. However, now scientists are excited that a new mission is already on its way to visit a whole new class of planetary bodies for the first time. This mission also expects to be able to re-route New Horizons to rendezvous with additional kuiper-belt objects after its initial Pluto mission. These targets have yet to be announced as scientists expect that some of these targets may not have even been discovered as of this time. Imagine how exciting it will be for the discoverer of a new planetary body to find out that there is already a mission on its way to explore the newly discovered object.