Sharper images of dwarf planet Ceres beamed back by Dawn spacecraft prompted NASA scientists to come up with a new hypothesis on what the pair of mysterious bright spots that puzzled researchers worldwide may be.
According to a NASA report the two spots may in fact be a salt deposit. Scientists knew that the formations are made of highly reflective material, but they weren’t able to tell exactly what it was.
Some researchers said that it may be ice, salt or water vapor. Other scientists believed that the spots may signal volcanic activity.
“We believe this is a huge salt deposit,”
Chris Russell, the head of Dawn mission team, concluded Monday.
NASA made the announcement at the European Planetary Science Congress in France, but it made the news public Thursday. The space agency’s researchers also said that they were sure it wasn’t ice. Yet, though they are positive the two bright spots on Ceres are a salt deposit, they couldn’t tell what type of salt.
Scientists who back the ice theory were startled. They argued that three may be a hidden ocean under Ceres’ crust which was at some point liquid but it froze again, and the two spots are reminders of that distant event.
On Monday, Russell said that presence of salt means that the dwarf planet is still geologically active. He believes that the salt came “from the interior somehow,” but he couldn’t explain how exactly that happened since Ceres has a relatively dry surface.
Scientists also found that the largest of the bright spots has a small hill-like-structure at its center. The bright spots are located in the Occator crater which was dubbed by scientists a “highlands area.” But researchers found other spots in lowlands, as well.
NASA also suggests that the bright streaks observed on one of the tallest mountains on the dwarf planet may also be salt deposits. And Dawn team believes that there may be another tall mountain on Ceres, but the images are not clear enough to confirm that hypothesis.
Russell added that the tall mountain may be the result of tectonic activity in subsurface ice. While on Earth such activity is too weak to form mountains, on Ceres gravity is different.
NASA also revealed Monday that Dawn spacecraft won’t land on Ceres in order to prevent contamination of the alien world with bacteria carried from Earth. But Dawn won’t leave Ceres yet. It will continue to get closer to its surface and take even closer shots in the process.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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