NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has made its closest pass to the dwarf planet Ceres. It is also its last fly-by of the body.
The first images from the flight show details of the cratered and fractured surface from a height of about 385 kilometres.
The images reveal a chain of craters called Gerber Catena, located just west of the large crater Urvara.
The fracturing found all across Ceres’ surface indicates that contraction, impact stresses and the loading of the crust by large mountains may have taken place as they do in large planets, despite Ceres’ small size.
But scientists say many of the troughs and grooves were likely formed as a result of impacts, but some appear to be tectonic, reflecting internal stresses that broke the crust.
“Why they are so prominent is not yet understood, but they are probably related to the complex crustal structure of Ceres,” said Paul Schenk, a Dawn science team member at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.