NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures First Close-Up Look at Ceres's Mysterious White Spots

Wednesday, 10 June 2015 - 2:54PM
Space
Astronomy
Space Imagery
Wednesday, 10 June 2015 - 2:54PM
NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures First Close-Up Look at Ceres's Mysterious White Spots
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres since March, and in that time we've learned more about the dwarf planet than we ever imagined. But one mystery that remains stubbornly unsolved is that of the brightly glowing spots of unknown origin, which have been photographed by Dawn in increasing detail. Now, NASA has released the first close-up photograph of these white spots, but that hasn't elucidated their source one bit.

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Captures First Close-Up Photos of Ceres's Mysterious White Spots

Although it looks like just two distinct bright spots, each of them is composed of many individual white spots. The brightest spots can be found clustered in a specific crater 90 miles across, but scientists can provide no explanation for their location or the brightness itself.

"The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from anything we've seen before in the solar system," said Dawn's principal investigator Chris Russell in a NASA statement. "The science team is working to understand their source. Reflection from ice is the leading candidate in my mind, but the team continues to consider alternate possibilities, such as salt. With closer views from the new orbit and multiple view angles, we soon will be better able to determine the nature of this enigmatic phenomenon."

In addition to a passive "reflection from ice," another option may be an active geological feature made of ice, such as a bizarre type of geyser. In a recent study, researchers posited that the ice is likely active because the spots seem to appear brightest in the photos that are taken at dawn, and then gradually fade over the course of the day, indicating some kind of active fluctuation. 

Dawn arrived in its current orbit around Ceres on June 3, and will observe the dwarf planet from 2,700 miles above the surface until June 28. It will then arrive in its next orbit, approximately 900 miles above the surface, in early August, making its closest approach to Ceres yet.
Science
NASA
Space
Astronomy
Space Imagery
NASA's Dawn Spacecraft: First Close-Up Look at Ceres's White Spots

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