NASA unveils stunning images of bright craters on dwarf planet Ceres (PHOTOS)

NASA unveils stunning images of bright craters on dwarf planet Ceres (PHOTOS)
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has snapped spectacular images of the dwarf planet Ceres, capturing photos of bright craters in amazing detail. The pictures were taken 386km (240 miles) from the surface of Ceres, during the spacecraft's final and closest orbit.

The images show two craters – the Haulani Crater and the Oxo Crater.

With a diameter of 34km (21 miles), the images of Haulani show evidence of landslides, as well as smooth material and a central ridge on its floor. In an enhanced false-color view, the material looks blue – a color which has been associated with young features on Ceres.

"Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface," said Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn framing camera team, based at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, as quoted by NASA.

The crater is special because it has a polygonal nature, meaning it resembles a shape made of straight lines. This is noteworthy because most craters seen on other planetary bodies – including Earth – are nearly circular. The straight edges of some Cerean craters, including Haulani, come from pre-existing stress patterns and faults beneath the surface.

In addition to Haulani, the photos show the smaller Oxo Crater. Measuring a width of 10km (6 miles), Oxo is the second-brightest feature on Ceres. Oxo is unique “because of the relatively large 'slump' in its crater rim, where a mass of material has dropped below the surface,” according to NASA. Those working with the Dawn spacecraft are also currently studying the signatures of minerals on the crater floor, which appear different than elsewhere on Ceres.

"Little Oxo may be poised to make a big contribution to understanding the upper crust of Ceres," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The images come less than one month after NASA released a separate batch of high-resolution images which showcased the mysterious beauty of Ceres.