The latest images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, give us the clearest view yet of the mysterious bright spots on the surface – but no clearer idea of what they actually are.
The image is among the first shots from Dawn’s second mapping orbit about 4,400 kilometres above the surface of Ceres.
The brightest spots lie in a crater about 90 kilometres across.
“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. Reflection from ice is the leading candidate in my mind, but the team continues to consider alternate possibilities, such as salt. With closer views from the new orbit and multiple view angles, we soon will be better able to determine the nature of this enigmatic phenomenon,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission based at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Next Monday Cosmos takes a detailed look at all the theories surrounding the Ceres bright spots and considers which are the most likely.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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