We don’t know exactly what those mysterious white spots on Ceres are yet, but we’re getting closer to an explanation. Literally. The latest images from the Dawn spacecraft taken a mere 8,400 miles from the dwarf planet Ceres reveal that the pair of spots are comprised of even more spots.
“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Dawn recently concluded its first science orbit, making a 15-day full circle around Ceres while gathering data with its suite of science instruments. This past Saturday, May 9, its ion engine fired once again to lower the spacecraft to its second science orbit which it will enter on June 6. On that date, the probe will hover just 2,700 miles (4,400 km) above the dwarf planet and begin a comprehensive mapping of the surface. Scientists also hope the bird’s eye view will reveal clues of ongoing geological activity.
Check out this great video compiled from Dawn’s still frames of Ceres by Tom Ruen. Almost feels like you’re there.
There’s no doubt a lot’s been happening on Ceres. One look at all those cracks hint at either impact-related stresses some kind of crustal expansion. Geological processes may still make this little world rock and roll.
Fortunately, we won’t have to wait till next month for more photos. NASA plans to pause the probe twice on the way down to shoot and send fresh images.