It’s probably just ice, but the mystery surrounding Ceres’ bright spots is exciting. The newest image was taken in a series of images on May 16. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was 4,500 miles away from the dwarf planet as it continues to close in.
“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission.
On June 6, Dawn starts its second mapping orbit of Ceres. It will be just 2,700 miles above the surface. This second orbit will last until June 30. After that, Dawn will dive even closer to the dwarf planet.
NASA is having some fun with Ceres’ mystery bright spots. The space agency opened a poll where you can vote for what you think the spots are. Volcano, geyser, rock, ice, salt deposit or other.
Other is leading with 37% of the votes. Hey, it looks like an alien city to me damn it. Ice, which is the leading theory, scored 30% of the vote. Volcano came in at 10% followed by geyser at 9%, salt deposit at 8% and rock at 6%.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is recording a lot of ‘firsts’ for the space agency. It’s the first time a spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. It’s also the first time a spacecraft has orbited two extraterrestrial targets – Dawn orbited the asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012.
Ever wondered how Dawn got from Earth to Ceres? This cool image shows how the spacecraft used Mars to give it a boost to Vesta and eventually Ceres.
Did you know that Ceres has more in common with Earth than its asteroid neighbors? Previous observations by the Herschel Space Observatory found evidence for water vapor on Ceres. Scientists suggest this vapor is produced by cryovolcanoes or ice near the surface.
The mysterious bright spots point to ice. Scientists say if Ceres is composed of 25% water (in the form of subsurface ice), it would have more water than all the fresh water on Earth.
Part of Dawn’s mission is to figure out exactly how this water vapor is formed and try to determine how much ice is in Ceres. The spacecraft’s June orbit and future lower orbits should help scientists answer these questions.
Image credits: NASA