Tour 'Weird Ceres', White Spots and All, in NASA's New 3-D Video

Thursday, 06 August 2015 - 4:47PM
Space
Astronomy
Solar System
Thursday, 06 August 2015 - 4:47PM
Tour 'Weird Ceres', White Spots and All, in NASA's New 3-D Video
NASA has just released a video that takes you on a tour of the mysterious dwarf planet Ceres, and it's in 3-D. Not just in the sense that the tour is panoramic, but in the actual "get your 3-D glasses ready" kind of way. I'm not sure how many of us have 3-D glasses handy, but this is still pretty cool:



The tour, made from images taken by the Dawn spacecraft, shows us many idiosyncratic features of Ceres, including a four-mile high, pyramid-shaped mountain that is dark on one side and streaked with light on the other. It isn't in a crater, and isn't associated with any surrounding craters, so scientists are at a loss as to what forces shaped it. 

And then, of course, there are those mysterious white spots. The reflective regions lie in a 60-mile wide, 2-mile deep crater called Occator, which is named after a Roman agricultural deity, and scientists still have little to no idea as to what they are:

Opening quote
"They reflect a great deal more sunlight than the rest of the surface material, but scientists haven't yet determined what it is about their composition or structure that's responsible. There are a number of different ideas about what they are, but to discover their real nature we need to get more data from lower altitudes."
Closing quote


The primary hypothesis seems to be active ice, or subsurface ice that's warmed by the sun and cyclically explodes into a "cryovolcano." However, there are several other explanations, leading NASA to conduct a fun little poll asking the public which was the most likely explanation. Aside from ice, the choices are "volcano," "geyser," "rock," "ice," "salt deposit," and "other." "Other" is the most popular answer so far at 39%, which makes us think that people are either appropriately humble and have no idea or think that it's aliens. More seriously, "ice" is the most popular answer of the concrete options at 28%, which is relatively reflective of current scientific opinion.

And if you happen to have 3-D glasses on you, you can see Ceres rotating off your screen right in front of your eyes. There's still much we don't know about Ceres, which was the first dwarf planet ever discovered, but NASA is hoping to learn more when Dawn completes its August 15 orbit, which will take it 910 miles away from Ceres's surface, and then again in December, when it will be only 230 miles from the surface.

Via Popular Science
Science
NASA
Space
Astronomy
Solar System

Load Comments