The Dawn probe, which is studying dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, had offered some answers to what does Ceres’ famous bright spots may mean.
The data could bring light to a puzzle that has been baffling experts since their discovery, a few years ago.
The scientists analyzed the data collected by Dawn and determined that the spots grow brighter as the light shines on them. Scientists believe that sunlight heats up the ice from beneath the surface and this causes massive blasts, like a volcano.
New photographs from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal the spots from different angles, as the large asteroid rotates around the sunlight. The pictures show the spots in all positions of Ceres, even when they are at the margin of the dwarf planet. So, the scientists were able to observe that the spots are relatively high above the surface.
Andreas Nathues, a planetary scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany was taken by surprise by this: “What is amazing is that you can see the feature while the rim is still in the line of sight.”
The scientist in sin charge of the team for one of the Dawn cameras. The images were shown recently at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Ceres is thought to be more than a quarter made of ice, a disproportionate amount compared to most asteroids. Dawn’s objective is to find out where that ice is and what is its role in shaping the surface of the asteroid. One theory is that the ice is covered by a thin layer of soil. The ice may occasionally get to the surface buy ‘cryovolcanoes’, very much like magma does on Earh, pushed up by the internal pressures within.
The Dawn probe is currently orbiting Ceres, after it was caught by its gravity field on March 6. The spacecraft needs to gets closer to the asteroid in order to begin taking more detailed pictures of the asteroid’s surface.
Dawn’s principal investigator, Christopher Russell, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, believes that by the end of the Dawn mission, the images captured by the spacecraft will solve the mystery.
Image Source: Sci News