As NASA's Dawn spacecraft comes closer to the dwarf planet Ceres, astronomers are speculating that the mysterious bright spots in a 60-mile-wide crater may be produced by ice.
The dwarf planet Ceres is full of surprises, and as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft inches toward its final orbit of the object, scientists are growing excited about what the increasingly detailed photos might reveal. According to a report from CS Monitor, images released by NASA on Wednesday have scientists speculating that the mysterious bright spots at the bottom of the Occator crater may be made of ice.
The new images reveal the surface of Ceres at a resolution of 450 feet per pixel, the highest captured by the space probe to date. According to Marc Rayman, the chief engineer and director of the Dawn mission, the photos have transformed what were just a few bright spots into a stunningly complex landscape. It will take some time before a geological and chemical survey can confirm what the bright spots are actually made of, but opinions on what researchers have found varies from frozen water to massive salt deposits.
The Occator crater measures 60 miles in diameter and is roughly two miles deep. For months, it has perplexed scientists with its glaring white spots, visible from thousands of miles away. The latest image taken of the dwarf planet is actually two different exposures combined to make a stunningly detailed composite image.
Dawn is projected to map all of the surface of Ceres in the coming months a total of six times as it orbits the dwarf planet.