A Bird's Eye View of Occator Crater

A new 3d-animation shows the large impact crater on dwarf planet Ceres in impressive detail.

November 03, 2020

Dwarf planet Ceres’ Occator Crater is one of the most impressive geological structures in our solar system. New calculations by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) and the University of Münster in Germany now offer the highest resolution three-dimensional reconstruction of the central depression of the Occator crater to date. With rugged slopes, circular furrows and a brilliant white central dome, the animated overflight over the inner crater area shows the whole range of geological features of this formation.

A Bird's Eye View of Occator Crater

Flight over the innermost part of Occator Crater on dwarf planet Ceres

The present shape of the Occator Crater bears witness to an eventful past, as researchers led by MPS were able to show. The crater was formed 22 million years ago by a violent impact. With a diameter of 92 kilometers, the size of Occator Crater exceeds that of most terrestrial craters. After the impact, a central mountain initially rose up in its center, but collapsed early on. About 7.5 million years ago, a large quantity of brine from the interior of the dwarf planet leaked out under the former mountain; the water evaporated and left behind white deposits, so-called carbonates, which can still be seen there today. Due to the loss of material, the inner part of the crater subsided, creating an approximately circular depression with a diameter of about 15 kilometers. As the animation impressively shows, its edges are lined by rugged mountains, steep slopes and numerous parallel furrows. Approximately 2 million years ago, new material emerged from Occator crater: in the center of the depression, the 340-meter high dome was formed.

The video shows the center of the Occator Crater. Newer, high-resolution images were combined with older color data. The red color of parts of the central dome stands for material that appears white to the naked eye, but reflects light more strongly with increasing wavelength. It is still unclear whether this extraordinarily fresh material is water connected to the salts or possibly even organic compounds.

The data on which the new reconstruction is based were obtained in the last months of the Dawn mission. During this phase, the spacecraft orbited the dwarf planet in highly elliptical orbits, sometimes approaching the surface to within 35 kilometers. The reconstruction has a resolution of a few meters per pixel.

MPS developed, built the two Dawn Framing Cameras, the scientific camera system on board, and operated them throughout the entire mission. The analysis of the many tens of thousands of images is still ongoing.

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