The latest image of the dwarf planet Ceres was taken on June 6 by the Dawn spacecraft. The photo reveals bright spots on the surface of Ceres whose origin scientists cannot decide upon.
In 2007 the Dawn spacecraft was launched on a mission in order to explore two of the three protoplanets which are known in our solar system: the dwarf planet Ceres and the Vesta asteroid. When it first reached Ceres Dawn came to be known as the first spacecraft which has ever explored a dwarf planet. Now the latest image which the scientists have obtained shows details which were not available before. The image was taken from about 2,700 miles above the dwarf planet.
The principal investigator of Dawn’s mission, Christopher Russell, professor of space physics and planetary science at UCLA, said that all the information which scientists learn about Ceres is new and amazing. Before analyzing Ceres the Dawn spacecraft explored Vesta, which is the second most massive cosmic body in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. From the data collected between July 2011 and September 2012 scientists learned very much about what were the conditions at the beginning of the solar system by analyzing Vesta meteorites which had fallen on our planet.
Regarding the bright spots on the surface of Ceres scientists have discovered that the largest one of them measures approximately 55 miles from one side to another. The bright spots seem to be highly-reflective regions. Professor Russell commented on this:
“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”
In order to solve the mystery of Ceres NASA has even started conducting a survey in which the public was asked to give its opinion about the nature of the spots. The participants had to choose from answers such as geysers, salt, ice, volcanoes or others. So far 40% of the the results until June 11 indicate that people believe that the explanation of the phenomenon is other than the ones listed in the survey. The second most chosen variant was ice.
Some online sources even claim that the spots could be hanger doors of UFOs, but NASA has dismissed such theories. Dawn will reach a lower orbit in June and probably that is when scientists might have a clear image of the phenomenon.
Image Source: Yahoo News