Ceres, what even are those white spots? Why you gotta be so speckled and mysterious?
In addition to bringing us ever-closer to the bright spots that speckle the dwarf planet Ceres, the newest images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft show a pyramid-shaped peak that towers three miles high over an otherwise fairly flat surface.
There's clearly some interesting stuff happening on Ceres, which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, but scientists are still figuring it all out.
"The surface of Ceres has revealed many interesting and unique features. For example, icy moons in the outer solar system have craters with central pits, but on Ceres central pits in large craters are much more common," Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said in a statement. "These and other features will allow us to understand the inner structure of Ceres that we cannot sense directly."
The newest image of the dwarf planet's mysterious spots, which have multiplied as resolution has increased, shows that there are at least nine of them in one crater. The largest is estimated to be about six miles wide, with eight much smaller spots surrounding it in the 55 mile crater.
We know that the spots must be made of some highly reflective material. Ice and salts are the most likely culprits, and either would be exciting. Water and minerals are both important seeding materials for life as we know it. It's doubtful that we'd find signs of even ancient life on the tiny dwarf planet, but it's important that scientists understand how common the basic building blocks are in the solar system.
These images come from Dawn's second mapping orbit at a height of 2,700 miles above the planet. In August, it will move down to an orbit of just 900 miles, which will hopefully give scientists the information they need to determine what's making Ceres shine.