An animation of the most recent pictures of the dwarf planet Ceres was made public yesterday. The amazing photographs were taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, that has successfully orbited the planet. In the pictures, a series of bright spots can be observed, that scientists still do not know what to make of.
Obviously, everybody is expecting aliens to be behind the mysterious spots, but it is rather unlikely that this is the case. This set of pictures was taken from a 8,400 miles distance from Ceres’ surface, but the next time that Dawn is set to orbit the planet, it will get significantly closer.
Starting June 6th, Dawn will begin its second orbit at a distance of 2,700 miles from the planetary surface and the mystery of the bright spots is bound to be revealed at the end of it.
It is also during this closer orbit that Dawn is expected to gather extensive information regarding Ceres’ surface. NASA intends to find out if the dwarf planet is in fact geologically active and to manage to produce a map of it.
Until the second orbit is completed, scientists have some ideas regarding what the bright spots could be. “Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice”, says Christopher Russell of the Dawn mission.
Dawn has managed to reach Ceres’ orbit on the 6th of March 2015 and has then become the first spacecraft in human history to successfully orbit a dwarf planet.
To get a better understanding of how far Ceres is, you should be reminded that the small planet is located between Mars and Jupiter, the fourth and fifth planets from the Sun, inside the asteroid belt.
Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt, with a diameter of about 950 miles, followed by Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea, which have a diameter of only 400 miles. Also it is the only dwarf planet, while the others are protoplanets.
The rest of the bodies in the asteroid belt have smaller and smaller diameters, with the smallest reaching the size of dust particles. It is because of this enormous amount of debris that it is very difficult for a spacecraft to pass through the asteroid belt unharmed.
The NASA spacecraft Dawn has started its mission in 2007 and has managed to provide information about Vesta back in 2011, after studying the protoplanet for 14 months.
Now, Dawn is focused on Ceres and will continue to study the dwarf planet until further information about it is obtained. In its future orbit of the planet, Dawn is expected to solve the mystery of the bright spots on Ceres’ surface.
Image Source: etheric