NASA Unveils Beautiful First Color Images of Ceres's Surface, But Those White Spots Remain A Mystery
These images aren't just beautiful, though, they're also incredibly valuable to scientists who want to understand the asteroid's past.
"This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our color images," said the Dawn Mission's principal investigator, Chris Russell, in a NASA statement.
But what of Ceres's mysterious bright spots? Although new data on the bright spots is coming in on a regular basis, details of their origin continue to elude NASA researchers. Hubble data has confirmed the location of around 10 separate bright spots in different areas of Ceres's surface, and work is underway to assess the relative temperatures of each one in order to help unlock the secrets behind them. Interestingly, the two brightest areas on Ceres appear to be located in an area possessing a temperature that is on par with its surroundings whereas other less bright, spots are located in areas with temperatures lower than average for Ceres's surface. Some early theories on the origin of the bright spots suggested that they consisted of active ice, but this huge variation in temperatures may put a spanner in the works for such a hypothesis.
(The top images show Region 1 being cooler than its surroundings, whereas the lower images show the brighter Region 5 at a comparable temperature to its surroundings. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF)
"The bright spots continue to fascinate the science team, but we will have to wait until we get closer and are able to resolve them before we can determine their source," Russell said.
So it would seem that the mystery of these bright spots is set to continue right up until the point when Dawn begins its scientific operations on Ceres in earnest. That date comes on April 23rd, when Dawn will begin to make observations and take measurements from a distance of just 8,400 miles (13,500km) above the dwarf planet.