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NASA outs new images, video of Ceres’ surface features

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NASA has released a set of new images and a 3D video detailing the surface features on the dwarf planet including a towering mountain and the brightest spots.

The towering mountain raised a lot of brows when it was first discovered. The cone-shaped 4-mile high mountain is said to have the same elevation as Mount McKinley in Denali National Park, Alaska, the highest point in North America. The reason why its presence is surprising is that it isn’t associated with any crater and seems like it is in middle of nowhere.

Among the highest features seen on Ceres so far is a mountain about 4 miles (6 kilometers) high, which is roughly the elevation of Mount McKinley in Alaska's Denali National Park. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/LPI

Among the highest features seen on Ceres so far is a mountain about 4 miles (6 kilometers) high, which is roughly the elevation of Mount McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/LPI

“This mountain is among the tallest features we’ve seen on Ceres to date,” said Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston. “It’s unusual that it’s not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don’t know yet, but we may find out with closer observations.”

The images also include those of the crater housing the mysterious bright spots of the dwarf planet. The Occator (oh-KAH-tor) crater got its name from the Roman agriculture deity of harrowing, a method of pulverizing and smoothing soil.

The intriguing brightest spots on Ceres lie in a crater named Occator, which is about 60 miles (90 kilometers) across and 2 miles (4 kilometers) deep. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/LPI

The intriguing brightest spots on Ceres lie in a crater named Occator, which is about 60 miles (90 kilometers) across and 2 miles (4 kilometers) deep.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/LPI

NASA scientists have revealed that their analysis has shown that the lights bear no resemblance to those that are reflected from ice. The spots’ albedo -­ a measure of the amount of light reflected -­ is also lower than predictions for concentrations of ice at the surface.

Researchers say that as they continue to evaluate the data to find the exact source of the light, they are looking at light reflected from salt as an option; however, they will garner more details as Dawn spacecraft moves closer to Ceres in mid-August at an altitude of 900 miles (less than 1,500 kilometers), or three times closer to Ceres than its previous orbit.