New pictures of dwarf planet Ceres which could hold alien life
Nasa’s spacecraft Dawn has sent back the closest images ever taken of the dwarf planet Ceres
New image of the dwarf planet Ceres taken from Nasa spacecraft Dawn Photo: Nasa
The closest pictures ever taken of the dwarf planet Ceres show that its surface is so peppered with crater marks that it looks like a giant golf ball.
Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is being observed by the spacecraft Dawn which arrived in the Spring.
Scientists have previously spotted plumes of water vapour gushing from the asteroid raising hopes that it could harbour primitive forms of alien life beneath on the surface, or beneath its crust.
Dawn is currently 2,700 miles above the surface of Ceres and has been taking detailed pictures of the pock-marked surface.
“Everything we learn from Ceres will be absolutely new,” said Christopher Russell, a UCLA professor of space physics and planetary science, and the Dawn mission’s principal investigator. “We approach it in awe and almost total ignorance.”
Dawn’s visit to Ceres, which is scheduled to last more than a year, began on March 6.
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Previously Dawn spent two months observing the asteroid’s neighbour Vesta, a minor planet which is the second largest body in the asteroid belt.
Scientists have learned about the conditions at the beginning of the solar system by studying meteorites, broken off Vesta from asteroid strikes, which have then fallen to Earth.
However there have been no such meteorites produced by Ceres, an indication that the two bodies are likely very different.
For example, Dawn found little evidence to indicate there is water on Vesta.
Ceres, unlike Vesta, might have a weak atmosphere and perhaps even life.
Ceres is the smallest known example of a class of bodies known as ‘dwarf planets’, a classification also given to Pluto following its demotion from full planet status in 2006
With a diameter of around 590 miles across, Ceres is less than a third the size of the Moon.
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