One several images NASA's Dawn spacecraft took on approach to Ceres on Feb. 4, 2015 at a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

An Even Closer View of Ceres Shows Multiple White Spots Now

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has acquired its latest and closest-yet snapshot of the mysterious dwarf planet world Ceres. These latest images, taken on Feb. 4, from a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 km) clearly show craters – including a couple with central peaks –  and a clearer though still ambiguous view of that wild white spot that has so many of us scratching our heads as to its nature.

Get ready to scratch some more. The mystery spot has plenty of company.

Take a look at some still images I grabbed from the video which NASA made available today. In several of the photos, the white spot clearly looks like a depression, possibly an impact site. In others, it appears more like a rise or mountaintop. But perhaps the most amazing thing is that there appear to be not one but many white dabs and splashes on Ceres’ 590-mile-wide globe. I’ve toned the images to bring out more details:

Here the spot appears more like a depression. Frost? Ice? Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Here the spot appears more like a depression. Frost? Ice? Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Here the white spot is at the asteroid's left limb. You can also see additional smaller spots that remind me of rayed lunar craters. Credit:

Here the white spot is at the asteroid’s left limb. You can also see lots of additional smaller spots that remind me of rayed lunar craters. Of course, they may be something else entirely.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Look down along the lower limb to spot a crater with a cool central peak. Credit:

Look down along the lower limb to spot a crater with a cool central peak. Note also how many white spots are now visible on Ceres. The mystery spot is a little right of center in this view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Our mystery white spot is further right of center. Is it a rise or a hole? Credit:

Our mystery white spot is further right of center. Is it a rise or a hole?Are the streaks rays for fresh material from an impact the way the lunar crater Tycho appears from Earth?  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Yet another view of the mystery spot. Credit:

Yet another view of the mystery spot. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

 

Animation made from images taken by Dawn on Feb. 4. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Animation made from images taken by Dawn on Feb. 4. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Now let’s take a look at an additional NASA animation of Ceres made using processed images. As the spot first rounds the limb it looks like a depression. But just before it disappears around the backside a pointed peak seems to appear. Intriguing, isn’t it?

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14 Responses

  1. bfmorris says:

    Well Ceres looks extremely interesting! That area does look elevated.

  2. UFOsMOTHER says:

    Yes I noticed more white spots earlier but now their even more obvious and the “big white spot” Could be a crater with a mountain in its centre, Its possible the prominent white crater is a more recent impact and the white is below surface ice that has risen after the collision….thanks Bob for the update.

  3. Aqua4U says:

    DAWN arrives at Ceres March 6, 2015. So we’re getting close! What do you think? Will this mission answer more questions than it asks?

  4. Manu says:

    “All these regions are not really bright, but only seem so in comparison to their surroundings. As many bodies in the asteroid belt, Ceres is very dark and reflects only nine percent of the incident sunlight. The bright spots are brighter by approximately 50 percent – and thus as dark as an asphalt surface.”
    From here:
    http://www.mps.mpg.de/3902247/PM_2015_02_05_Dawn_Neue_Bilder_von_Ceres

    No surface ice I’m afraid =)

  5. UFOsMOTHER says:

    Aqua4U thanks for pointing that out hope Manu enjoyed it too 🙂 lol

  6. Navneeth says:

    Many spots on Ceres? Obviously it wasn’t vaccinated.

    *ahem*

    Rosetta, Dawn, New Horizons… this is all too much to take in!

  7. stpa0001 says:

    It looks like a volcano to me. An extinct one I’m betting, but a volcano is what it looks like. That would be very interesting!

  8. Steven says:

    All the bright spots are on the upper hemisphere?

  9. Steven says:

    Is “North” on Ceres reasonably in the direction of all the norths of the planets?

    Vesta’s is way over on its side pretty much – near RA = 305.8° ± 3.1°, Dec = 41.4° ± 1.5° ( http://www-ssc.igpp.ucla.edu/personnel/russell/papers/improved_measurement.pdf)

  10. Brian Sheen says:

    Ceres is dark, Vesta is much lighter, maybe the White Spot(s) is the result of Ceres being impacted by a small member of the Hirayama family of asteroids. The reverse appears to be the case with Vesta being covered with dark spots. Although there is no definite proof yet there is a smoking gun which indicates that the white spots are the result of impacts with Vesta like meteorites.
    Roseland Observatory

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