Moment of Wonder: Ceres’ permanent shadows

I missed my opportunity to get excited about NASA’s Juno mission, which entered Jupiter’s orbit when I was spending time away from the blog. (I needed to finish up edits on a novel.)

Hopefully this bit of cosmic craziness makes up for my truancy.

Here’s the deal: It appears one of NASA’s other missions, Dawn, has helped scientists identify permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these spots have probably been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, meaning it’s possible ice deposits exist there now.

Ceres is the largest object in the astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s also been of particular interest to scientists because a remnant internal ocean of liquid water might be contained under its icy mantle.

“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury.”

The permanently shadowed regions lie along the northern hemisphere of Ceres. NASA used images taken by the Dawn mission combined with computer modeling of illumination to run its calculations and to develop the cool video above.

If you really want to drill down into the subject (pardon the pun), the findings are available online.

Moment of Wonder: Pluto up close

NASA’s New Horizons mission just keeps on giving.

The agency last week released photos — including the one above — that give the closest view available of Pluto’s glaciers, mountains and craters. Most of the craters shown above lie in the 155-mile-wide Burney Basin, named after Venetia Burney, the English schoolgirl who first proposed the name “Pluto” when it was discovered in 1930.

Check out the layering in the interior walls of craters such as the large one in the center. Such layers usually signify an important change in surface composition or a major geological event.

If you want to see a larger swath of Pluto’s surface, check out this mosaic of images NASA created to show a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide trending from its horizon across the al-Idrisi Mountains and onto the shoreline of Sputnik Planum. Posting it here would really do the image no justice.