Mysterious Ceres White Spot Multiplies

By now, if you keep up with Astronomy news even a little bit, you’ve heard of the strange white spot on the surface of Ceres, within a large crater in the dwarf planet’s northern hemisphere.  As the science mission of the Dawn spacecraft continues, we are starting to see new images of the surface in unprecedented detail, and finally we have a closer view of the mystery spot.  Is the new series of images enough to determine its origin? See for yourself.

Where there were two, now there are 10! Ceres photographed on May 3 and 4 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft show multiple white spots inside the 57-mile-wide crater located in the asteroid’s northern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA / montage by Tom Ruen

The only thing clear from these new images is that what once appeared to be a single or at most double bright spot is in fact ten individual bright regions! It seemingly makes the mystery deeper in our search for answers.  However, the new data does provide some insight into their origin.  With the higher resolution data, mission scientists can conclude that the bright spot is definitely due to a reflective material on the surface, likely some sort of ice.

Luckily we won’t have to wait long for fresh images.  The spacecraft just finished a deceleration to lower its orbit to 4,400 Km above the surface to begin high resolution mapping of the entire dwarf planet.  It will reach this orbit and begin these operations on June 6th.  It’s a great summer to be a space geek!


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