NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has given scientists on Earth the first close-up of the bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres, meaning that there are more mysteries to investigate. A new photo featuring the most peculiar of the reflective patches in the Occator crater shows a dome covered with a bright material that may be salt, according to research published in 2015.
Thanks to its low orbit mapping of Ceres, Dawn was able to get such detailed views of the dwarf planet’s surface.
New observations provided by Dawn reveal that the bright spots are more nuanced than scientists had previously thought. Co-investigator Ralf Jaumann said in a statement that the latest close views show complex features that encourage the team to investigate more.
Dawn researchers have built a full map of the dwarf planet, a tool that has enabled them to pick out bright spots and color changes, as well as any zones hosting other rare features such as the cone-shaped mountain Ahuna Mons.
Maps like this one help scientists find out more about Ceres’ evolution, which is interesting because the dwarf planet is the largest object located in the belt of asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
Researchers believe Dawn’s observations suggest that the bright features covering the mound of the Occator crater most likely formed not so long ago.
“It appears that material has come up from below and been emplaced in the central pit. We’re investigating when this process occurred,” Dawn investigator Carol Raymond said during a press briefing about the new photos, as reported my Mashable.
Occator is about 2.5 miles deep and 57 miles wide. This crater hosts other bright spots sprinkled throughout the whole area but the shiniest feature is the patch covering the mound.
Occator has some company
Raymond clarified that the Dawn team has observed other bright spots on Ceres, meaning that the process is not exclusive to Occator.
For instance, the Haulani crater also features bright spots of unknown material within it. In fact, Maria Cristina de Sanctis, another researcher working with Dawn, said in a statement that false-color images of this crater is the only one that features the mysterious material excavated by an impact is , meaning that the general composition of the dwarf planet is completely different.
She explained that the fact that the materials are so diverse possibly implies either that Ceres has a mixed layer underneath or that the impact triggered certain changes in the properties of the materials.
Source: The Guardian