NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captures a sharper detail of the bright ‘alien spots’ seen on the mysterious Ceres

Dawn spacecraft of NASA captured sharper details of the bright ‘alien spots’ seen on the mysterious dwarf planet Ceres.

Though the spacecraft has snapped few best pictures of the cluster of light; however space researchers do not have any proper explanation for this phenomenon seen on the asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, yet.

As per the researchers, new images indicate that the brightest spots lay within the center of a crater which is 55 miles (90 kilometers) wide and further it is  surrounded by other bright spots that vary in their sizes.

Dawn has captured thousands of images of Ceres showing the bright spots and NASA has also released a video tour of Ceres’ strange white spots which can be seen here. The video shows various bright spots which has come into the focus of the spacecraft for the past two months.

Principle investigator of Dawn, Chris Russel of UCLA said in a statement: “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.”

This month, Dawn captured the images from its second mapping orbit of Ceres. This orbit lies about 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above the surface of Ceres. Very soon the spacecraft plans to get even closer to the dwarf planet and is expected to get much closer so that it will succeed in exactly getting to know this phenomenon of the bright spots.

Dawn is powered by super efficient engines which have a low thrust hence it takes Dawn a bit longer time to get around. However, the researchers are expecting Dawn will begin spiraling down to an orbit with an altitude of 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) on June 28 and finally reach the surface somewhere in early August.

Russel says: “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.”

NASA launched its $473 million Dawn mission in September 2007 to study Ceres and Vesta. These two are the largest object in the main asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres measures about 590 miles (950 kilometer) whereas the diameter of Vesta is about 330 miles (530 kilometer).

NASA’s Dawn initially orbited Vesta from July 2011 till September 2012 and then it started orbiting Ceres since March 2015.

Dawn has become the first ever spacecraft to orbit two objects beyond Earth-moon system and in addition it is the very first ever to orbit a dwarf planet. Ceres and Vesta fall into the category of dwarf planet as well as asteroid.

As per NASA officials, the images captured by Dawn’s second mapping orbit have provided some insight into the differences between the two dwarf planets, Ceres and Vesta. Though the surface of both the dwarf planets have been heavily marked with craters, Ceres seems to show more evidence of geological activity on its surface which includes flows and landslides in comparison to Vesta.

NASA officials also confirm that Dawn will continue orbiting Ceres through June 2016. And in its final stages of orbiting Dawn will closely eye Ceres from just 230 miles (375 kilometer) away from its surface.

NASA has created a tool for people to participate and vote for any one of the six explanations categories that would probably explain the phenomenon of the bright alien spots on Ceres: volcano, geyser, rock, ice, salt or “other”.

Surprisingly, the winner of the poll is “other” which indicates that people are looking for an alien explanation!!

Jake Ellison from voted for Ice and had put a Toymaker’s solution to the mind boggling puzzle of the bright alien spots. However, Elizabeth Rosa Landau, NASA’s spokesperson, replied to the query stating: “I asked our principal investigator Chris Russell (of UCLA), and he explains why he doesn’t think these are ‘ice rinks’: “Exposed ice would sublime, that is, evaporate into the vacuum of space. An impact could excavate through dirt and into ice below and leave a temporary exposure but this would not last long. If it is ice we need a way to replenish the ice or keep it clean from dust and debris so we can see it. So any mechanism for producing the bright spots seems to be complicated. I am not expecting a trivial solution to this conundrum.”

Russell appreciated the Dawn flight team and the Dawn science team and he says that they are high achievers; however he believes that the spacecraft itself is the highest achiever of all!


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