Ceres is a dwarf planet that has been in scientists and astronomers sights for some time now. The goal has been to get a closer look at Ceres as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft gets closer to it. Initially, Dawn noticed several bright spots on the surface of the dwarf planet that were somewhat confusing to scientists and astronomers. It wasn’t entirely clear what the purpose of these bright spots were, but it was apparent that they were there, as the grouping continued to grow brighter as the spacecraft grew closer.
Now, scientists have an even clearer picture of what is happening on the surface of Ceres, though answers to this standing mystery remain cloudy. The bright spots are inside a crater, scientists have pointed out, as the Dawn spacecraft has gotten closer in its orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. One of the theories behind the bright spot has been ice, or frozen liquid. However, determining what that liquid might be is something that has been challenging to this point.
UCLA astronomer Christopher Russell, who is the principle investigator of the Dawn mission pointed out that, “We have these bright spots that have the reflectivity of ice, and whose spectrum of reflected light is similar to that expected from ice. So ice is a good bet.” However, he went on to point out that, “How is the ice getting to the surface, if it is ice? Is it coming out as a water/ice volcano and making a mountain of ice on the surface, or is there a hole there which has dug down to ice or water? And what is causing all the little bright spots near the big bright spot? We are sure there is some logical explanation for all this, but for now, we are just scratching our heads.”
At this point though that is the big question. What are these bright spots? It’s hard to say from the vantage points that scientists currently have, and there isn’t enough solid evidence to suggest that any one thing is causing it – but it will be very interesting to see what answers might come down the road when more is known about the dwarf planet Ceres as Dawn continues to get closer to the surface.