The Mystery Of Ceres’s Bright Spot Deepens


For now, all efforts have been futile. Ceres, the dwarf planet that reigns the Asteroid Belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, remains committed in hiding from scientists the origin of the mysterious and enigmatic bright spots that glow in the center of some of its craters.

The European Planetary Science Conference is held during this week in the French town of Nantes, and Ceres, the dwarf planet with a diameter of 950 kilometers is one of the key subjects of this year’s event. At the conference, researchers from around the world have gathered to discuss the mysterious bright spots of Ceres and admitted, even though the Dawn Spacecraft has been orbiting the dwarf planet for six months, the origin of the mysterious bright spots is still a mystery for science.

The Occator Crater, colour-coded to show differences in elevation, and its baffling bright spots
The Occator Crater, colour-coded to show differences in elevation, and its baffling bright spots

The spots were seen for the first time in the center of the Occator crater just before the Dawn Spacecraft reached its destination, on March 6. Before reaching Ceres, the spacecraft had visited Vesta, another one of the larger bodies from the asteroid belt.
Before reaching Ceres, from afar, researchers identified at Ceres an intriguing glow, almost metallic intensity which immediately aroused the curiosity of researchers and other scientists as to what these mysterious spots were doing on Ceres.

As the Dawn Spacecraft approached its destination, researchers identified more of the mysterious spots in different parts of Ceres.
Since then, researchers have come up with a number of hypothesis: Is it possible that we are looking at some sort of volcanoes? Ice that is different in color from the rest of the terrain? Are these bright spots Salt deposits? These are just some of the theories proposed by researchers but the truth is, none of them have explained scientifically, what the mysterious spots on Ceres are.

“We haven’t solved the source of the white material,” said the mission’s principal investigator Chris Russell from the University of California Los Angeles.

These "stretched" colours give clues about Ceres' mineral composition
These “stretched” colours give clues about Ceres’ mineral composition

“We think that it’s salt that has somehow made its way to the surface. We’re measuring the contours, trying to understand what the surface variations in that crater are telling us.”

Scientists revealed a completely new set of data in the conference in Nantes. The information provided included a new topographic map showing the shape of Ceres’ entire surface in the most detail yet.’

“The irregular shapes of craters on Ceres are especially interesting, resembling craters we see on Saturn’s icy moon Rhea,” said deputy mission Chief Carol Raymond from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “They are very different from the bowl-shaped craters on Vesta.”

“There’s an interesting blue ring here,” Prof Russell told a media briefing at the conference. “We have absolutely no idea what that blue ring is due to.

“And there are streaks across the surface that point back to the Occator Crater with its bright spots. We are poking at this, and we’re looking for ideas, but we haven’t solved the problem yet.”

The new maps have allowed researchers to find new rarities on the surface of the dwarf planet, and one of the new mysterious findings is an oddly shaped mountain which rises to a height of 6 km. on a completely flat terrain, its appearance according to Russell is nothing like the result of any known geological process.

This earlier photo showed the mountain - which is yet to be named - from above
This earlier photo showed the mountain – which is yet to be named – from above

“We’re having difficulty understanding what made that mountain,” he told reporters.

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