The Bright Spots on Ceres

As the Dawn spacecraft settles into lower orbits around Ceres the photos of this small world are of ever better resolution. The mysterious bright spots have slowly resolved into an interesting arrangement of multiple spots. Despite many wild claims on YouTube and UFO websites of alien cities or crashed spacecraft, the spots are looking more and more like a set of ice outcroppings. They are still fascinating, if just a bit more ordinary than some would hope.

My bet? Some sort of cryovolcano.

JPL Press release

NASA’s Dawn mission captured a sequence of images, taken for navigation purposes, of dwarf planet Ceres on May 16, 2015. The image showcases the group of the brightest spots on Ceres, which continue to mystify scientists. It was taken from a distance of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) and has a resolution of 2,250 feet (700 meters) per pixel.

“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,” Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles, said recently.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, marking the first time a spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. Previously, the spacecraft explored giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012. Dawn has the distinction of being the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial targets.

The spacecraft has been using its ion propulsion system to maneuver to its second mapping orbit at Ceres, which it will reach on June 6. The spacecraft will remain at a distance of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) from the dwarf planet until June 30. Afterward, it will make its way to lower orbits.

Ceres White Spots
This image of Ceres is part of a sequence taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 16, 2015, from a distance of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

2 thoughts on “The Bright Spots on Ceres”

  1. wOUDNT IT BE A RENEWING SOURCE OTHERWISE THE FROZEN LIQUID WOULD CONTINUE TO SUBLIME INTO SPACE?

  2. If it is cold enough the ice will not sublime even in direct sunlight, the asteroid belt is rather marginal on this. Ceres has an orbit of 2.7AU, current estimates of the frost line in our solar system are about 5AU for complete stability of exposed ice. So slowly? Thus my guess of a cryo volcano or similar feature that renews itself once in a while.

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