You would expect that the clearest of pictures would also aid astronomers in accurately describing and identifying particular formations on celestial bodies they are investigating. Yet, since the time when the Hubble Space Telescope first captured bright, mysterious white spots on Ceres, the dwarf planet, more than 10 years ago, astronomers have yet to figure what the spots actually were. Now, a series of crystal-clear photographs of Ceres have been obtained and scientists are still at a loss.
The images were taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently on its way to its final destination, orbiting Ceres. The final rendezvous will take place on the 6th of March. While still underway, the spacecraft is still able to collect valuable information that scientists may use, and on February 12th, it took unprecedented images of Ceres, only 52,000 miles from the dwarf planet.
However, even these breathtaking images of the largest celestial body located in the asteroid belt between Mars and our solar system’s gas giant, Jupiter, aren’t enough to appease astronomer’s curiosity.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft manage to take pictures of an unprecedented clarity: a 4.9 miles per pixel resolution. As the Hubble Telescope images did before, these photographs also capture the tiny, heavily-cratered planet where the mystery white spots can be identified scattered all across its surface. This 590-mile-wide world, however, still won’t relinquish its secrets, as these peculiar white spots are yet to be explained by scientists. Dawn will have to draw in even closer to ensure that the tiny details on this icy world can be properly studied.
“We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”
lead investigator in the Dawn project, Chris Russell.
Whether the bright spots are comprised of ice, scientists can’t really say at the moment, although speculation is clearly to be expected. The Hubble Space Telescope has captured one of these white spots in its previous photographs, but the images were too blurry, so that Hubble couldn’t really discern between the spots it had identified, Marc Rayman, Dawn lead engineer said.
Dawn will eventually enter orbit and continue looking for information about this icy world by studying its surface as well as its mysterious water tufts which astronomers reported in 2014. When the spacecraft will come close enough to Ceres to properly offer scientists the detail-filled information they so dearly require, it may just be that we also get our answer and finally learn about the mystery-spots and their composition, Marc Rayman added.
The Whole Picture of Ceres and its Origin
This dwarf planet has always been considered a bit out-of-place in our solar system’s asteroid belt, as this area is mostly populated by small, dusty space rocks. It’s precisely because of this that some astronomers are of the conviction that Ceres might actually have been born somewhere differently or at a different time than all its other neighbors. In order to gain more insight into this matter, Dawn will compare the information it has gathered from another “giant” (as relative to the inhabitants of the asteroid belt), Vesta against what it will gather on Ceres. Dawn has been investigating the dry and dusty planet for 14 months, from 2011 to 2012.
Image Source: NASA NASA
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