Tag Archives: Ceres

Analyzing a crater of Ceres

Hi there! The space mission Dawn has recently visited the small planets Ceres and Vesta, and the use of its different instruments permits to characterize their composition and constrain their formation. Today we focus on the crater Haulani on Ceres, which proves to be pretty young. This is the opportunity for me to present you Mineralogy and temperature of crater Haulani on Ceres by Federico Tosi et al. This paper has recently been published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science.

Ceres’s facts

Ceres is the largest asteroid of the Solar System, and the smallest dwarf planet. A dwarf planet is a planetary body that is large enough, to have been shaped by the hydrostatic equilibrium. In other words, this is a rocky body which is kind of spherical. You can anyway expect some polar flattening, due to its rotation. However, many asteroids look pretty much like potatoes. But a dwarf planet should also be small enough to not clear its vicinity. This means that if a small body orbits not too far from Ceres, it should anyway not be ejected.

Ceres, or (1)Ceres, has been discovered in 1801 by the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, and is visited by the spacecraft Dawn since March 2015. The composition of Ceres is close to the one of C-Type (carbonaceous) asteroids, but with hydrated material as well. This reveals the presence of water ice, and maybe a subsurface ocean. You can find below its main characteristics.

Discovery 1801
Semimajor axis 2.7675 AU
Eccentricity 0.075
Inclination 10.6°
Orbital period 4.60 yr
Spin period 9h 4m 27s
Dimensions 965.2 × 961.2 × 891.2 km
Mean density 2.161 g/cm3

The orbital motion is very well known thanks to Earth-based astrometric observations. However, we know the physical characteristics with such accuracy thanks to Dawn. We can see in particular that the equatorial section is pretty circular, and that the density is 2.161 g/cm3, which we should compare to 1 for the water and to 3.3 for dry silicates. This another proof that Ceres is hydrated. For comparison, the other target of Dawn, i.e. Vesta, has a mean density of 3.4 g/cm3.

It appears that Ceres is highly craterized, as shown on the following map. Today, we focus on Haulani.

Topographic map of Ceres, due to Dawn. Click to enlarge. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Topographic map of Ceres, due to Dawn. Click to enlarge. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The crater Haulani

The 5 largest craters found on Ceres are named Kerwan, Yalode, Urvara, Duginavi, and Vinotonus. Their diameters range from 280 to 140 km, and you can find them pretty easily on the map above. However, our crater of interest, Haulani, is only 34 km wide. You can find it at 5.8°N, 10.77°E, or on the image below.

The crater Haulani, seen by <i>Dawn</i>. © NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / Max Planck Institute for Solar System Studies / German Aerospace Center / IDA / Planetary Science Institute
The crater Haulani, seen by Dawn. © NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / Max Planck Institute for Solar System Studies / German Aerospace Center / IDA / Planetary Science Institute

The reason why it is interesting is that it is supposed to be one of the youngest, i.e. the impact creating it occurred less than 6 Myr ago. This can give clues on the response of the material to the impact, and hence on the composition of the subsurface.
Nothing would have been possible without Dawn. Let us talk about it!

Dawn at Ceres

The NASA mission Dawn has been launched from Cape Canaveral in September 2007. Since then, it made a fly-by of Mars in February 2009, it orbited the minor planet (4)Vesta between July 2011 and September 2012, and orbits Ceres since March 2015.

This orbit consists of several phases, aiming at observing Ceres at different altitudes, i.e. at different resolutions:

  1. RC3 (Rotation Characterization 3) phase between April 23, 2015 and May 9, 2015, at the altitude of 13,500 km (resolution: 1.3 km/pixel),
  2. Survey phase between June 6 and June 30, 2015, at the altitude of 4,400 km (resolution: 410 m /pixel),
  3. HAMO (High Altitude Mapping Orbit) phase between August 17 and October 23, 2015, at the altitude of 1,450 km (resolution: 140 m /pixel),
  4. LAMO (Low Altitude Mapping Orbit) / XMO1 phase between December 16, 2015 and September 2, 2016, at the altitude of 375 km (resolution: 35 m /pixel),
  5. XMO2 phase between October 5 and November 4, 2016, at the altitude of 1,480 km (resolution: 140 m / pixel),
  6. XMO3 phase between December 5, 2016 and February 22, 2017, at the altitude varying between 7,520 and 9,350 km, the resolution varying as well, between
  7. and is in the XMO4 phase since April 24, 2017, with a much higher altitude, i.e. between 13,830 and 52,800 km.

The XMOs phases are extensions of the nominal mission. Dawn is now on a stable orbit, to avoid contamination of Ceres even after the completion of the mission. The mission will end when Dawn will run out of fuel, which should happen this year.

The interest of having these different phases is to observe Ceres at different resolutions. The HAMO phase is suitable for a global view of the region of Haulani, however the LAMO phase is more appropriate for the study of specific structures. Before looking into the data, let us review the indicators used by the team to understand the composition of Haulani.

Different indicators

The authors used both topographic and spectral data, i.e. the light reflected by the surface at different wavelengths, to get numbers for the following indicators:

  1. color composite maps,
  2. reflectance at specific wavelengths,
  3. spectral slopes,
  4. band centers,
  5. band depths.

Color maps are used for instance to determine the geometry of the crater, and the location of the ejecta, i.e. excavated material. The reflectance is the effectiveness of the material to reflect radiant energy. The spectral slope is a linear interpolation of a spectral profile by two given wavelengths, and band centers and band depths are characteristics of the spectrum of material, which are compared to the ones obtained in lab experiments. With all this, you can infer the composition of the material.

This requires a proper treatment of the data, since the observations are affected by the geometry of the observation and of the insolation, which is known as the phase effect. The light reflection will depend on where is the Sun, and from where you observe the surface (the phase). The treatment requires to model the light reflection with respect to the phase. The authors use the popular Hapke’s law. This is an empirical model, developed by Bruce Hapke for the regolith of atmosphereless bodies.

VIR and FC data

The authors used data from two Dawn instruments: the Visible and InfraRed spectrometer (VIR), and the Framing Camera (FC). VIR makes the spectral analysis in the range 0.5 µm to 5 µm (remember: the visible spectrum is between 0.39 and 0.71 μm, higher wavelengths are in the infrared spectrum), and FC makes the topographical maps.
The combination of these two datasets allows to correlate the values given by the indicators given above, from the spectrum, with the surface features.

A young and bright region

And here are the conclusions: yes, Haulani is a young crater. One of the clues is that the thermal signature shows a locally slower response to the instantaneous variations of the insolation, with respect to other regions of Ceres. This shows that the material is pretty bright, i.e. it has been less polluted and so has been excavated recently. Moreover, the spectral slopes are bluish, this should be understood as a jargony just meaning that on a global map of Ceres, which is colored according to the spectral reflectance, Haulani appears pretty blue. Thus is due to spectral slopes that are more negative than anywhere else on Ceres, and once more this reveals bright material.
Moreover, the bright material reveals hydrothermal processes, which are consequences of the heating due to the impact. For them to be recent, the impact must be recent. Morever, this region appears to be calcium-rich instead of magnesium-rich like anywhere else, which reveals a recent heating. The paper gives many more details and explanations.

Possible thanks to lab experiments

I would like to conclude this post by pointing out the miracle of such a study. We know the composition of the surface without actually touching it! This is possible thanks to lab experiments. In a lab, you know which material you work on, and you record its spectral properties. And after that, you compare with the spectrum you observe in space.
And this is not an easy task, because you need to make a proper treatment of the observations, and once you have done it you see that the match is not perfect. This requires you to find a best fit, in which you adjust the relative abundances of the elements and the photometric properties of the material, you have to consider the uncertainties of the observations… well, definitely not an easy task.

The study and its authors

And that’s it for today! Please do not forget to comment. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed, and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

How Ceres and Vesta shape the asteroid belt

Hi! Today I will tell you about a recent study made in Serbia on the dynamical influence of the small planets Ceres and Vesta on the Asteroid Belt. This study, Secular resonances with Ceres and Vesta by G. Tsirvoulis and B. Novaković, has been accepted for publication in Icarus.

The Asteroid Main Belt

There are many small bodies in the Solar System, here we just focus on the so-called Main Belt, i.e. a zone “full” of asteroids, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The word “full” should be taken with care, since there are many asteroids populating it, but if we cross it, we would be very unlikely to meet one. This zone is essentially void. It is estimated that the total mass of these asteroids is only 4% of the mass of the Moon.

It is called “Main Belt” since the first asteroids were discovered in this zone, and it was long thought that most of them were in this Main Belt. At this time, hundreds of thousands of them have been identified, but the Kuiper Belt, which lies behind the orbit of Neptune, might be even more populated.

The dynamics of these bodies is very interesting. It could contain clues on the early ages of the Solar System. Moreover, they are perturbed by the planets of the Solar System, especially the giant planets.

As a consequence, they have pretty complex dynamics. Their orbits can be approximated with ellipses, but these are not constant ellipses. They are precessing, i.e. their pericentres and nodes are moving, but their semi-major axes, eccentricities and inclinations are time-dependent as well. To represent their dynamics, so-called proper elements are used, which are kind of mean values of these orbital elements, and which are properties of these bodies.

Ceres and Vesta

Ceres and Vesta, or more precisely 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta, are the two largest objects of the Main Belt, with mean radii of 476 and 263 km, respectively. So large objects could present complex interior structures, this is one motivation for the US space mission Dawn, which has orbited Vesta between July 2011 and September 2012, and is currently in orbit around Ceres, since March 2015.

This space mission has given, and is still giving, us invaluable data on these two bodies, like a cartography of the craters of Vesta, and the recent proof that Ceres is differentiated, from the analysis of its gravity field.

The orbital resonances

The asteroids are so small bodies than they are subjected to the gravitational influence of the planets, in particular Jupiter. The most interesting dynamical effect is the orbital resonances, which occur when a proper frequency of the orbit of the asteroid (for instance its orbital frequency, or the frequency of precession of its orbital plane, known as nodal precession) is commensurate with a proper frequency of a planet. In such a case, orbital parameters are excited. In particular, an excitation of the eccentricity results in a destabilization of the orbit, since the asteroid is more likely to collide with another body, and/or to be finally ejected from the Main Belt.

This results in gaps in the Main Belt. The most famous of them are the Kirkwood Gaps, which correspond to mean-motion resonances between the asteroids and Jupiter. When the orbital frequency of the asteroid is exactly three times the one of Jupiter, i.e. when its orbital period is exactly one third of the one of Jupiter, then the asteroid is at the 3:1 resonance, its eccentricity is excited, and its orbit is less stable. We thus observe depletions of asteroids at the resonances 3:1, 5:2, 7:3, and 2:1.

Another type of resonance are the secular resonances, which involve the precession of the pericentres and / or of the node (precession of the orbital plane) of the asteroid. In such a case, this is a much slower phenomenon, since the periods involved are of the order of millions of years, while the orbital period of Jupiter is 11.86 years.

The asteroid families

An analysis of the dynamics (proper elements) and the physical properties of the asteroids shows that it is possible to classify them into families. The asteroids of these families are thought to originate from the same body, which has been destroyed by a collision. They are usually named among the largest of these bodies, for instance Vesta is also the name of a family.

This study

In this study, the authors investigate the dynamical influence of Vesta and Ceres on the Main Belt. They particularly focus on the secular resonances, in identifying four of them, i.e. resonances with the precessions of the pericentres and nodes of these two bodies.

For that, they perform numerical integrations of the motion of 20 test particles over 50 Myr, perturbed by the 4 giant planets, with and without Ceres and Vesta, and show significant influence of these bodies for some of the particles.

Finally, they show that some asteroid families do cross these resonances, like the Hoffmeister family.

Some links

  • The study, Secular resonances with Ceres and Vesta by G. Tsirvoulis and B. Novakovic, accepted for publication in Icarus, and made freely available by the authors on arXiv (thanks to them for sharing)
  • The web site of Georgios Tsirvoulis
  • The web site of Bojan Novaković
  • The mission DAWN