NASA’s Dawn Mission reveals Ceres’ mysterious bright spots in exceptional detail

American space agency NASA has released some new close-up images of Ceres, revealing the dwarf planet’s mysterious bright spots in unprecedented detail.

The images, captured by the space agency’s space probe Dawn from just 240 miles above the surface, provides a closer look at Ceres surface that shows distinctive bright spots. The images unveil a dome covered with the bright material.

For the first time, scientists could look at the dwarf planet’s Occator Crater. The crater, which measures around 2.5 miles deep and 57 miles across, contains the two bright spots that perplexed researchers for years.

However, even the new images failed solve the mystery of bright spots, but the images finally provided scientists with something to work with.

Chris Russell, principal investigator for NASA’s Dawn Mission, said, “The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from anything we’ve seen before in the solar system. The science team is working to understand their source.”

The Dawn spacecraft was the first mission to reach Ceres as well as the first space probe to orbit two distinct extraterrestrial objects. In 2011, it orbited Vesta. It has been orbiting Ceres for more than a year, getting closer to the dwarf planet over time.

According to a report in ClarksVilleOnline by Elizabeth Landau, “Scientists from NASA’s Dawn mission unveiled new images from the spacecraft’s lowest orbit at Ceres, including highly anticipated views of Occator Crater, at the 47th annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, on Tuesday.”

“Before Dawn began its intensive observations of Ceres last year, Occator Crater looked to be one large bright area. Now, with the latest close views, we can see complex features that provide new mysteries to investigate,” said Ralf Jaumann, planetary scientist and Dawn co-investigator at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin. “The intricate geometry of the crater interior suggests geologic activity in the recent past, but we will need to complete detailed geologic mapping of the crater in order to test hypotheses for its formation.”

In a statement provided to CS Monitor News, “Low-orbit images of the dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter were highly anticipated because of what they could potentially say about the Occator Crater. Bright spots on Ceres have perplexed scientists since NASA’s Dawn mission sent images of them back last year. And measuring 57 miles across and 2.5 miles deep, Occator Crater holds the brightest area on the entire planet.”

“Although impact processes dominate the surface geology on Ceres, we have identified specific color variations on the surface indicating material alterations that are due to a complex interaction of the impact process and the subsurface composition,” Ralf Jaumann, of the German Aerospace Center in Berlin, says in a NASA blog post. “Additionally, this gives evidence for a subsurface layer enriched in ice and volatiles.”

NationalGeographic report added, “Ceres is a salt-covered dwarf planet whose main claim to fame is that it’s the largest body in the main asteroid belt. But back when it was younger and hotter, scientists have found, Ceres was an ocean world—much like the watery moons of Jupiter and Saturn. ”

“Ceres appears to have been one of these in the past,” Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for NASA’s Dawn mission, said Tuesday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The Dawn mission put a spacecraft in orbit around the tiny planet in March 2015. “What we’re looking at now, we believe, is the remnants of a frozen ocean.”

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