Ceres’ bright spots attributed to reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material
Latest sequence of snapshots of Ceres captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft show the mysterious bright spots in greater resolution. The images were taken from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers).
Though the nature of exact spots remain a mystery, the images do reveal that the brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are composed of many smaller spots. Further the researchers can conclude that the bright spots are a result of reflection of sunlight by ice or some sort of highly reflective material on the surface.
“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.
These images offer scientists new insights into crater shapes and sizes, and a host of other intriguing geological features on the surface. The image resolution is 0.8 mile (1.3 kilometers) per pixel.
Dawn has now concluded its first mapping orbit, in which it completed one 15-day full circle around Ceres while making a host of new observations with its scientific instruments. On May 9, the spacecraft powered on its ion engine to begin the month-long descent toward its second mapping orbit, which it will enter on June 6.
In this next phase, Dawn will circle Ceres about every three days at an altitude of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) — three times closer than the previous orbit. During this phase, referred to as Dawn’s survey orbit, the spacecraft will comprehensively map the surface to begin unraveling Ceres’ geologic history and assess whether the dwarf planet is active. The spacecraft will pause twice to take images of Ceres as it spirals down into this new orbit.
Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two distinct solar system targets. It studied giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months in 2011 and 2012, and arrived at Ceres on March 6, 2015.