Striking 3-D detail highlights a towering mountain, the brightest spots and other features on dwarf planet Ceres in a new video from NASA's Dawn mission. Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
A prominent mountain with bright streaks on its steep slopes is especially fascinating to scientists. The peak's shape has been likened to a cone or a pyramid. It appears to be about 4 miles (6 kilometers) high, with respect to the surface around it, according to the latest estimates. This means the mountain has about the same elevation as Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska, the highest point in North America.
"This mountain is among the tallest features we've seen on Ceres to date," said Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston. "It's unusual that it's not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don't know yet, but we may find out with closer observations."
Also puzzling is the famous Occator (oh-KAH-tor) crater, home to Ceres' brightest spots. In examining the way Occator's bright spots reflect light at different wavelengths, the Dawn science team has not found evidence that is consistent with ice. The spots' albedo - a measure of the amount of light reflected - is also lower than predictions for concentrations of ice at the surface.
"The science team is continuing to evaluate the data and discuss theories about these bright spots at Occator," said Chris Russell, Dawn's principal investigator at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We are now comparing the spots with the reflective properties of salt, but we are still puzzled by their source. We look forward to new, higher-resolution data from the mission's next orbital phase."
"There are many other features that we are interested in studying further," said Dawn science team member David O'Brien, with the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. "These include a pair of large impact basins called Urvara and Yalode in the southern hemisphere, which have numerous cracks extending away from them, and the large impact basin Kerwan, whose center is just south of the equator."
On March 6, 2015, Dawn made history as the first mission to reach a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct extraterrestrial targets. It conducted extensive observations of Vesta in 2011-2012.
View the NASA Video at http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/dawn/cruise-over-ceres-in-new-video