Findings from NASA’s Dawn Mission shed new light on Ceres

Findings from NASA’s Dawn Mission shed new light on Ceres

Scientists working on NASA’s Dawn mission revealed new findings from the spacecraft at EGU’s General Assembly. This blog post is brought to you by Nikita Marwaha, reporting on the press conference in Vienna, Austria.

The very first press conference of the 2015 General Assembly this year took a closer look at the surface of Ceres. Scientists working on NASA’s Dawn Mission shared new results from the Dawn spacecraft which has been orbiting the planetary body since 6 March. A new colour map has been released that sheds light onto the planetary body, revealing greater surface diversity than previously thought. Thermal properties of two regions on the dwarf planet are also under question, with scientists spotting vast differences in infrared images taken by Dawn.

Located between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres sits in the asteroid belt and is the second stop on Dawn’s tour of the Solar System – having previously visited smaller asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012. The spacecraft captured images during its initial approach to Ceres from which a false colour mosaic map was created. Stark differences in morphology and colour are visible, suggesting that Ceres was once an active body.

“This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our colour images”, said Chris Russel, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

This enhanced colour view allows scientists to gain an insight into the properties of Ceres’ surface, beyond the range of colours visible to the human eye. Using this technique, physical properties relating to composition, surface texture and morphology can be determined. Complex craters, large curvilinear features and isolated high elevations with steep slopes can also be seen in this map.

The number of craters on Ceres intrigued scientists, having previously studied Vesta which had comparably fewer. Complex craters are an indication of a violent collision history, suggesting that Ceres’ past may be more complex than previously thought. Both Vesta and Ceres are similar in size, yet vary in surface composition. This false colour mosaic map, with its uneven texture, is not as uniform as a body such as Ceres should be, hinting that there is still yet much to learn in the future.

In particular, two spots on the surface of Ceres have caught the Dawn scientist’s attention. First glimpsed up close one month ago, new infrared images unveil that they possess different thermal properties to each other. Named Spot 1 and Spot 5, the two seemed to “behave distinctly differently”, described Federico Tosi at the press conference, who works on Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIR).

These images, taken from Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR,) illustrate two regions on Ceres containing bright spots. The top image is of the region scientists have named Sport 1 and the bottom image is of Spot 5. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/NAF)

These images, taken from Dawn’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR,) illustrate two regions on Ceres containing bright spots. The top image is of the region scientists have named Sport 1 and the bottom image is of Spot 5. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/NAF)

Based on observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, planetary scientists have previously identified 10 bright regions on the surface of Ceres. However, Spot 1 and Spot 5 are the two brightest spots seen on the surface of Ceres.

Upon closer inspection, Spot 1 appears to be cooler than Spot 5. From a thermal perspective, Spot 1 is visualised as a dark spot in the infrared images above, whereas Spot 5 does not stand out in the images. This is because Spot 1 is far cooler than its surroundings, whereas Spot 5 is not and as a result, shows no distinct thermal behaviour. Tosi added that this disappearance of Spot 5 was “the biggest surprise”.

Currently, Dawn is too far away from Ceres to investigate these findings further. More will become clear over the coming months as Dawn emerges from Ceres’ dark side and peers closer to investigate its surface composition and temperature further.

Data gathered from this next period of the mission will provide scientists with images of greater resolution to disentangle the clues that are being collected by the spacecraft. Until then, Ceres’ surface variation and bright spots continue to fascinate the team of Dawn scientists as the mystery surrounding Ceres grows and we learn more about this rocky world.

By Nikita  Marwaha,  EGU Press Assistant and EJR-Quartz Editor


At the Assembly: Wednesday highlights

At the Assembly: Wednesday highlights

We’re halfway through the General Assembly already! Once again there is lots on offer at EGU 2015 and this is just a taster – be sure to complement this information with EGU Today, the daily newsletter of the General Assembly, available both in paper and for download here.

Today features more Union-wide events which celebrate the conference theme: A Voyage through Scales. First up is a symposium on the geocomplexity of scales (US1): a series of talks which will explore the variability of geosystems over a huge range of scales both in space and time. This is followed by a Lecture of general scientific interest (GL2) in the afternoon on archives of the continental crust by Chris Hawkesworth, which you can join in Y1 from 13:30 onwards. You can follow the sessions on Twitter with #EGU15US and #EGU15GL, and, if you’re not attending, tune in with the conference live stream.

The educational and outreach symposia (EOS) feature sessions on geoscience education, science communication, public engagement and related topics. This year there are a large number of EOS sessions on offer: today you could head over to the geoethics for society: general aspects and case studies in geosciences session, from 13:30–17:00 in Room R12, where talks will focus on the ethical and social implications in geoscience. Make sure to check the EOS programme to see if anything else catches your fancy.

Another promising event set for today is the EGU Award Ceremony, where the achievements of many outstanding scientists will be recognised in an excellent evening event from 17:30–19:00 in Room Y1. Here are some of the lectures being given by these award-winning scientists:

Today also sees the Penck Lecture of the Geomorphology Division take place. Ann V. Rowan will be talking about what can mountain glaciers tell us about climate change: quantifying past and future discharge variations in the Southern Alps and Himalaya (KL2) from 12:15–13:15 in G2.

Now on to short courses! Today offers the opportunity to learn how to write the perfect paper in geomorphology (SC47/GM11.2, 17:30–19:00 in G2), learn the basics of climate modelling (SC43, 19:00–20:00 in B12) and increase your chances of securing funding for your next project by attending this two part workshop: How to write a successful ERC Starting Grant proposal (SC19/TS10.1, 15:30–17:00 / Room B4), followed by the broader, finding funding: how to apply for a research grant (SC39, 17:30–19:00 / Room B13).

And check out some of today’s stimulating scientific sessions:

Finally, remember to take the opportunity to meet your division’s representatives in the day’s Meet EGU sessions and, if you’ve had enough of the formalities, head on over to GeoCinema, where you’ll find some great Earth science films, including the finalists of EGU’s Communicate Your Science Video Competition. Make sure to vote on your favourite entries by ‘liking’ the videos on the EGU YouTube channel.

Have an excellent day!

Introducing the new EGU young scientist representatives at Union level

Introducing the new EGU young scientist representatives at Union level

While each of the division young scientist representatives gather feedback from young scientists in their fields, the Union-level representative gathers information from each of the division reps and takes it to the EGU’s Programme Committee – the group responsible for organising the EGU’s annual General Assembly – and, from this year onwards, to the EGU Council as well.

Following a two-year term, Sam Illingworth steps down as Programme Committee Representative at this year’s General Assembly. Wouter Berghuijs, from the Hydrology Division, and Lena Noack, from Planetary Sciences, have been nominated by the young scientist division representatives to replace Sam. Wouter will serve as Head Representative within the next year, with Lena taking the role of Deputy Head Representative. She will become Head Representative the following year.

A huge thank-you to Sam for his excellent work representing young scientists at Union level and congratulations to Wouter and Lena!

Explore the Exhibition at EGU 2015!

Explore the Exhibition at EGU 2015!

Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly!

Exhibition booths for companies, publishers, scientific societies and many more are scattered throughout the Blue (basement), Yellow (ground floor), and Green (first floor) Levels of the Austria Center Vienna. See the General Assembly website for a full list of who’s attending and where to find them.

Make sure you don’t miss EGU and Friends in Hall X on the Blue Level, where you can find out more about the EGU and its partners!


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