The odd bright spots perched upon the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres have revealed an unexpected quality, as NASA recently observed the largest of them generating a localized “mini-atmosphere” within their respective crater.
The observation was made by the Dawn spacecraft, according to Space.com, as it focused on the odd formations at the base of Ceres’ Occator crater. When viewed from the proper angle, the bright spots appear to be undergoing a process of sublimation, generating a haze within the 57-mile-wide (92 kilometers) crater that represents a de facto atmosphere as Dawn’s principal investigator, Christopher Russell, pointed out in a presentation on Tuesday.
“If you look at a glancing angle, you can see what seems to be haze, and it comes back in a regular pattern,” he observed.
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) July 23, 2015
According to Russell, the bright spots “are possibly subliming, or they’re providing some atmosphere in this particular region of Ceres.” He noted, however, that the haze detected by Dawn does not extend beyond the rim of the crater in which the bright spots reside. Only about half of the crater’s floor is covered by the haze, as he pointed out.
— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) July 18, 2015
The “mini-atmosphere” has been detected on multiple occasions at the same time of day, as io9 reports, seemingly lending credence to assertions that the mysterious bright spots could be ice formations. Researchers have suggested that the spots could represent pockets of either ice or salt; observing that the formations aren’t what scientists would expect to see if they were simply the product of meteorites punching through the outer layer of the dwarf planet to reveal its interior geology.
— Corey G (@CGoodFOX10) July 15, 2015
The six-mile-wide spot located in the Occator Crater is the largest one yet observed on Ceres and has been the focus of constant attention since Dawn neared the dwarf planet earlier in the year. Any number of outlandish theories have been advanced to explain the bright spots, including the assertion that they represent an extraterrestrial civilization, as the Inquisitr previously reported.
Russell cautioned that Dawn’s observations are far from certain. In a follow-up interview, he clarified his position on the bright spots, revealing that there is more to debate before their true nature is confirmed.
“I was speaking from less than a handful of images, and the interpretation of the images is disputed by some team members. I would like the debate to go on internally before we make a pronouncement one way or the other. I of course have my personal opinion, but I am not always right.”
Dawn will soon bring its spectrometer to bear on the dwarf planet, probing the surface with visible and infrared light. Researchers will then be able to identify with certainty the exact composition of the bright spots on the surface of Ceres.