Another day, another snapshot of the dwarf planet Ceres. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was 29,000 miles away when it took the latest images.
Remember that bright spot puzzling scientists? Turns out there is another smaller spot right beside it.
“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 Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission.
Russell is referring to cryovolcanoes, also known as ice volcanoes. These type of volcanoes form on cold bodies throughout our solar system. Instead of spewing molten lava, cryovolcanoes erupt water, ammonia or methane. Once this liquid water is erupted, it freezes as it comes into contact with the extreme cold temperatures of space.
Scientists still are not sure what to make of the bright area, but ice would make the most sense. Is it a cryovolcano? We won’t know for sure until Dawn enters Ceres’ orbit on March 6.
“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, lead investigator for the framing camera team.
Dawn will spend 16 months around Ceres. During this time, it is expected to deliver tens of thousands of images of the dwarf planet along with other measurements. To give you an idea of what to expect, Dawn delivered more than 30,000 images of Vesta, another massive body in the asteroid belt, back in 2011 and 2012.
What do you think it is? I would be surprised if it wasn’t ice.