The dwarf planet Ceres is seen like never before in an exciting flyover video shot by NASA's Dawn spacecraft and released by the space agency. The short film was created from a series of images shot by the observatory since its launched in September 2007.
Fly Over Dwarf Planet Ceres provides a virtual simulation of what it would be like to fly over the entire planetary body in just one minute. The video shows such a flight from several angles, and at different altitudes. It is comprised of images taken from 8,400 miles from the dwarf planet, as well as navigational images recorded from a distance of 3,200 miles.
The imaging team added a star field in the background, and doubled the height differences seen in the video to accentuate detail. Multiple images taken by the spacecraft from a wide range of angles over the dwarf planet made it possible to create the 3D map displayed in the video.
Dawn arrived at Vesta on July 16, 2011, and spent 14 months in orbit around that body, which also lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, before the spacecraft left to travel to its second target, Ceres. The vehicle arrived at its final destination on March 15, 2015. Dawn is the first exploratory vehicle to make use of an ion drive for propulsion.
A pair of bright spots seen on Ceres by the Dawn observatory have astronomers, both professional and amateurs, puzzled. A poll available on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory site, asking viewers their opinion on what is responsible for the bright spots. Voters are asked to select from six choices - volcano, ice, geyser, salt, rock, or other.
On June 8, 40 percent of respondents had voiced their opinion that the actual cause of the light areas comes under the heading "other." Some UFOlogists and others suggest the bright spots on Ceres are lights from a space station used by alien civilizations, or possibly large doors to an underground hanger for UFO's.
The Dawn observatory is currently orbiting Ceres once ever 3.1 days, as that icy body circles the sun in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The video was created from images recorded during the first mapping phase of the mission at Ceres, while the second phase of the mapping project has recently starting, promising even more dramatic results in the coming months.
"The pictures will be three times as sharp as those from the first mapping orbit. This mapping phase is scheduled to continue for eight revolutions, providing plenty of opportunities to gather a wealth of data," Dawn program managers wrote on the spacecraft's Web site.
The video below also is available for viewing on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory YouTube page.