While our attention has been focused on the remarkable fly-by of Pluto by spacecraft New Horizons, NASA’s other mission to survey dwarf planet Ceres has been continuing.
The Dawn spacecraft is in its second mapping orbit 4,400 kilometres above Ceres, but ne w images beamed back are raising more questions than answers.
Ceres is about 400 million kilometres from Earth and lies between Mars and Jupiter.
“What’s being seen on Ceres right now are just some really just outright baffling bright spots that have been defying explanation until now,” Gerard Van Belle, an Astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, told reporters.
But he says they are “probably salt deposits or ice deposits from lakes that evaporated or sunk into the surface”.
Next month we will get a closer look when Dawn descends to an altitude of just 1,450 kilometres.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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