NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes close-ups of Ceres’s strange white spots but can’t explain them

NASA’s Dawn has taken close-ups of the strange and intriguing white patches seen in the middle of the huge Occator crater on the dwarf planet Ceres.

NASA’s Dawn started orbiting Ceres, an asteroid and a dwarf planet located between Mars and Jupiter, since March 2015 and it was also confirmed by the NASA officials that Dawn would continue orbiting Ceres through June 2016.

Dawn’s first orbiting revealed that Ceres showed more evidence of geological activity on its surface such as landslides.

The first footage from Dawn spacecraft also revealed some strange and intriguing white patches in the middle of a huge and dark crater.

Since then Dawn has completed its second orbiting with a closer look at Ceres and has provided with much more detailed view of the surface of Ceres. However, instead of solving the mystery the images are adding more confusion to these puzzled spots.

Ceres was one of the first asteroid to be discovered in 1801 and though it was originally considered as a dwarf planet it was reclassified as an asteroid in 1850 when researchers discovered many other objects in the asteroid belt lying between Mars and Jupiter.

Even after two centuries of its discovery, Ceres still remains a mystery to the scientists in terms of its origin and geology that is the major reason as to why NASA began their Dawn expedition in 2007. Dawn initially orbited Vesta from July 2011 till September 2012 and now it is orbiting Ceres.

Recently, Dawn spacecraft orbited the surface of Ceres from as low as 1,600 km and was able to capture much detailed images of the Ceres’ surface.
In comparison to the images captured in the last batch the ones captured now are of much higher resolution. According to the officials, though Dawn has captured a detailed view of these white patches and its surroundings, it is not yet able to unfurl the mystery of these white patches!
According to officials these bright spots are are found within a 4 km deep Occator crater on the surface of Ceres. In addition the officials are sure that these spots are not made up of ‘ice rinks’ because the amount of light reflected by these white spots is much lower and does not fit the usual pattern of light reflected by ice on the planet.

You can take a closer look at the Occator crater on Ceres:

NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes close-ups of Ceres’s strange white spots but can't explain them

Dawn’s principal investigator, Chris Russell, from University of California, Los Angeles says: “The science team is continuing to evaluate the data and discuss theories about these bright spots at Occator.  We are now comparing the spots with the reflective properties of salt, but we are still puzzled by their source. We look forward to new, higher-resolution data from the mission’s next orbital phase.”
The mystery of the white patches seems to be continuing with each set of images sent by the spacecraft. Now that scientists are sure it is not ice rinks the next option is that it could be some sort of super-reflective rock layer which has been exposed in the crater, some believe the spots could have originated due to volcanic activity or it could probably be even a geyser.
Presently, scientists are not sure what these patches are and hence they have started an online poll for public to participate and cast their vote on what could be the closest probable explanation for the phenomenon of the bright alien spots on the surface of Ceres. The six options included in the poll are as follows:volcano, geyser, rock, ice, salt or “other”.
A color-coded elevation map of the Ceres’ surface was also captured by Dawn and here the dark blue color represented the low lying areas whereas the brown spots indicated the highest areas on the planet. In a way this map has further confused the NASA scientists.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft takes close-ups of Ceres’s strange white spots but can't explain them

As per the map there is a four-mile tall ( 6 km) cone shaped mountain on the other side of the planet. Surprisingly, this mountain is pretty dark on one side and on the other it shows presence of bright streaks along the borders of the peak and to add to the confusion the land surrounding the structure is completely flat!

Paul Schenk, another Dawn scientist says: “This mountain is among the tallest features we’ve seen on Ceres to date. It’s unusual that it’s not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don’t know yet, but we may find out with closer observations.”

First the mysterious white patches and then these tall mountains, all these are really fascinating the researchers because they believe that unwinding these mysteries would lead them to understand the geological processes that would have led to the formation of Ceres and in a way it could also provide some important clues to understand our Solar System in a much better way.

Marc Rayman, the chief engineer and mission director of Dawn spacecraft said:  “Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape.”

He added:  “Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery.”

Dawn will continue orbiting Ceres till June 2016, that means it would get closer to the dwarf planet indicating it would be providing us with much more detailed images in the recent future. In August, Dawn orbited Ceres at 915 mile high orbit and it takes around 19 hours for the spacecraft to complete one lap around the dwarf planet. In the month of October it would be moving in closer orbit and in these two months scientists would be capturing the images of the Ceres’ surface from multiple angles which they will use to build a 3D terrain map and stereo image catalog.

In its final orbit the spacecraft will move pretty close to the surface of Ceres which is about 233 miles (375 kilometers) from surface and scientists believe this would provide them with accurate measurement of the gravitational field and surface composition of the dwarf  planet.

Well, hopefully the future footage would provide some clues to the scientists so as to unwind the mystery of these white bright spots and the pyramids instead of confusing and increasing curiosity!

Whatever it is, stay tuned to this page to get more news regarding the “Ceres World”.

Do take this tour of Weird Ceres along with its unique mysterious bright white spots and the tall pyramid shaped mountains.

 

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