New Image From NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Show Ceres's White Spot Has A Companion
The mystery of the bright white spot, present on images of Dwarf Planet Ceres taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, has deepened with the latest hi-res image of our asteroid belt's largest object. As Dawn draws ever closer to Ceres it is able to observe the dwarf planet in ever-increasing detail, which means that with every image, the hopes of solving the mystery behind that strange, bright white dot increase. But far from helping NASA scientists solve the puzzle, the latest Dawn images have actually given them more to chew on, as they show that this white spot has a dimmer neighbor.
""Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," said Dawn's Principal Investigator, Chris Russell.
The image was taken with Dawn approximately 29,000 miles away from its target, but in April the spacecraft will become the first ever to take a full characterization of the dwarf planet as it circles at an altitude of 8,900 miles above its target. In the months following this groundbreaking task, Dawn will continue to spiral closer and closer towards Ceres, imaging the icy object in ever-increasing detail until the entire surface is mapped. With this mapping, we should finally learn what it is that is causing these white spots in the center of one of Ceres's craters, but until then it would appear that scientists are going to remain completely baffled.
"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," said Andreas Nathues of the Planck Institute.