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Ceres' fantastical craters pop in new NASA images

NASA's Dawn spacecraft got an eyeful of the impressive craters that dot the surface of dwarf planet Ceres, and they're a sight to behold.

The Haulani Crater has a jagged edge.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dwarf planet Ceres rocketed to stardom when NASA images showed mysterious bright spots on its surface. Now we have some fabulous close-ups of Ceres' delightful crater collection.

NASA released several new images on Tuesday showing off the bright craters. Of particular interest is Haulani Crater, named after the Hawaiian goddess of plants. It has a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers). An enhanced image of the crater shows landslides leading off from the rim. The color blue is notable in the false-color image since it indicates younger material.

"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," Dawn mission team member Martin Hoffman said in a statement. NASA's Dawn mission is on a Star Trek-style adventure exploring strange new worlds.

Take a close look at Haulani and you'll notice another feature that fascinates scientists. The edges are angular. Compare that with the very circular shapes you see on other space objects like our moon. NASA says the crater's geometric shape is due to "pre-existing stress patterns and faults beneath the surface."

Dawn also sent back an image of a much smaller crater, named Oxo. NASA refers to it as a "hidden treasure." It's just 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide, but it's also the second brightest feature on the dwarf planet. Only the center of the Occator Crater is brighter. Scientists are currently studying it to learn more about its mineral composition, which may be different from the rest of Ceres.

The Dawn mission launched in 2007 and first spent time investigating the protoplanet Vesta before heading on to check out Ceres. As of mid-April, Dawn is in a low orbit around Ceres, at a mere 240 miles (385 kilometers) above the surface. That means we can look forward to more fascinating images of the alien world.

oxocrater1.jpg

NASA says the Oxo Crater is unique for its large "slump" at the rim.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI