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#Science

Ceres’ white spots captured in greater clarity, but mysteries remain

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is drawing closer to Ceres by the day and the space rock’s latest pictures reveal its white bright spots in greater detail, but scientists still haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reason behind the source of the bright illumination.

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.

Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles, recently said that scientists working on the mission have concluded that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice.

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.

Earlier in April, Dawn captured Ceres’ sunlight north pole from a distance of 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers).

Though NASA scientists claim that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice, what do you think is the reason behind the white spots? Let us know through your vote below:

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Ceres, with an average diameter of about 590 miles (950 kilometers), is the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn has been using its ion propulsion system to maneuver to its first science orbit at Ceres, which it will reach on April 23.