Tags: ceres | white | spots | mystery | dawn | dwarf | planet

Ceres White Spots a Big Mystery as Spaceship Dawn Approaches Dwarf Planet and Pics Improve

By    |   Friday, 06 Feb 2015 07:31 AM

Visible white spots on dwarf planet Ceres have become the focus of NASA researchers as the spacecraft Dawn continues to zoom closer to the asteroid between Mars and Jupiter and delivers the best pictures yet of its surface.

Ceres, which is the size of Texas, is uniquely classified as a dwarf planet and an asteroid in the solar system. It is the largest object in the asteroid belt but the smallest dwarf planet in the solar system, noted Space.com.

At a resolution of 8.5 miles per pixel, Dawn's pictures show the sharpest images to date of Ceres, according to NASA.

What has caught the attention of researchers is the discovery of white spots on the asteroid's 590-mile wide surface, reported NBC News.

"We are at a phase in the mission where the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the nature of the surface," UCLA planetary scientist Chris Russell, the principal investigator for the mission told NBC News. "But the surface is different from that of other planets, and at this stage the increasing resolution presents more mysteries rather than answers them."

Russell said researchers believe that the bright regions may be fresh areas of the dwarf planet and dark regions may be older areas.

"So the surface of Ceres seems to have a number of circular features of varying freshness on a predominantly dark, presumably old surface," said Russell. "The one type of feature that clearly came into view this time were examples of central peak craters with overall similarity to large lunar craters."

Other researchers said they weren't willing to go out on a limb about the bright spots.

"Yes, we can confirm that it is something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight, but what that is remains a mystery," Marc Rayman, mission director and chief engineer for the Dawn mission, told Space.com.

"We do not know what the white spot is, but it's certainly intriguing," said Rayman. "In fact, it makes you want to send a spacecraft there to find out, and of course that is exactly what we are doing. So as Dawn brings Ceres into sharper focus, we will be able to see with exquisite detail what [the white spot] is."

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Visible white spots on dwarf planet Ceres have become the focus of NASA researchers as the spacecraft Dawn continues to zoom closer to the asteroid between Mars and Jupiter and delivers the best pictures yet of its surface.
ceres, white, spots, mystery, dawn, dwarf, planet
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2015-31-06
Friday, 06 Feb 2015 07:31 AM
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