Dawn Spacecraft Takes Glimpse at Ceres’ Dimly-Lit Regions


Closeup of dwarf planet Ceres’ surfaceNASA announced that Dawn spacecraft has successfully managed to map dwarf planet Ceres’ dimly lit portions where scientists believe that there could be several ice deposits within billion-year-old craters.

Researchers explained that Ceres’s has some spots that it are permanently enshrouded in darkness, and temperatures can sink way below the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon or planet Mercury.

Norbert Schorghofer, one of the researchers investigating data gathered by the Dawn probe, noted that Ceres’ environment is just right for accumulating water ice deposits. The dwarf planet is also massive enough to host water, the researcher added.

Ceres has some regions that do not receive direct sunlight such as crater floors or crater walls facing the poles. Temperatures there are constant and never go above -240 degrees F or -151 degrees C. So, scientists believe that those regions are perfect for water ice accumulation which over the millennia should have morphed into thick ice deposits.

Mission investigators at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center call these regions “cold traps,” which they had theorized long before Dawn was able to confirm them.

Researchers spotted the permanently shadowed areas by analyzing Dawn imagery through computer models. The team used images of the dwarf planet’ northern hemisphere which receives more sunlight than the southern region.

Next, the team stitched the images into a larger 3-D picture showing Ceres with all its craters, valleys and other features. A complex computer model revealed which areas receive direct sunlight and which are permanently engulfed by shadows.

The computer model enabled scientists to calculate how much amount of sunlight each area receives and how temperatures change over the year. The model also revealed dozens of dimly-lit regions. The largest region is located within a crater with a diameter of 10 miles about 40 miles away from the planet’s North Pole.

All of Ceres’ dimly-lit regions cover about 695 square miles of the planet or about 1 percent of the planet’s northern hemisphere. Dawn team explained that the permanently shadowed spots on Ceres should be a lot colder than those on the Moon or Mercury because the dwarf planet is located farther from the Sun than the two space bodies.

Erwan Mazarico, another mission investigator, noted that on Moon and Mercury only dimly lit regions close to their poles can act like cold traps. On Ceres, on the other hand, there are cold traps at much lower latitudes.
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