There were many theories about the remote dwarf planet’s mystery bright spots. Some people said that they were highly-reflective water ice, others believed that they were salt deposits or outcrops of cryo-volcanic activity, while some even went far enough to say that they were military bases of alien civilizations.
But a recent study suggests that the truth may lie somewhere in between. After Dawn mission investigators announced in October that the salt-deposit theory may be the most plausible, a team of German scientists from the Max Planck Institute claim that the spots may be indeed made of salt, but they may also contain water ice.
Researchers speculate that water ice comes from a hidden ice sheet underneath Ceres’ rocky crust, which gets exposed every time an impact with a space object occurs. After analyzing recent imagery provided by Dawn spacecraft, German scientists concluded that the two bright spots are shrouded in afternoon haze on a regular basis.
The phenomenon is quite common in comets, but was never witnessed over a dwarf planet like Ceres. Andreas Nathues, lead author of the study, explained that the images that Dawn had provided in an earlier phase during its approach to the dwarf planet were too fuzzy to allow scientists draw final conclusions on the nature of the bright dots.
Plus, the images were saturated because the tiny probe based its exposure times on the planet’s background. As a result, the spots couldn’t be identified until recently, when Max Planck researchers separated exposure time for the bright blobs from exposure for the dark background.
Through the new method, German scientists gained a clearer image for both the shiny spots and the entire planet. So, they learned that Ceres has similar structures, which mission investigators originally had believed to be only common to the Occator crater, in other places across its surface.
The team found more than 130 similar glimmering spots with various levels of reflectivity. Researchers explained that these structures emerge in the wake of a collision. This is why they are usually found in impact craters. By analyzing their brightness, study investigators concluded that the mystery blotches are deposits of magnesium sulfate, or a type of inorganic salt.
But German researchers found that several of those salt deposits are also made of water ice, which is responsible for the daytime mists that occur above Occator and other impact craters.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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