NASA recently released a series of photos taken by the Dawn Spacecraft as it approached the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres will be the first dwarf planet ever studied up close. However, the latest photos have brought up more questions than answers. One question surrounds the presence of a mysterious “flickering” bright spot on Ceres’ surface.
NASA reports that, in a series of photos taken on January 13 by Dawn Spacecraft, a mysterious white “flickering” spot was noticed. The white spot is also backed up by images retrieved previously by the Hubble Telescope. However, scientists working with the Dawn Spacecraft are uncertain about what exactly the white spot may be. In fact, they made no suggestions for what could have caused the bright spot other than it is definitely “something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight.”
“Yes, we can confirm that it is something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight, but what that is remains a mystery. We do not know what the white spot is, but it’s certainly intriguing. In fact, it makes you want to send a spacecraft there to find out, and of course that is exactly what we are doing! So as Dawn brings Ceres into sharper focus, we will be able to see with exquisite detail what [the white spot] is.”
Unfortunately for those who can’t wait to find out what the mysterious Ceres object may be, Dawn will not be in orbit with the dwarf planet until sometime in March. Fortunately, unlike many mysterious objects in space, Ceres will be studied up close, and the Dawn Spacecraft is already on approach to orbit the tiny celestial body.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) January 23, 2015
According to Space.com, though Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, it is certainly not large. In fact, Ceres is only about the width of the state of Texas. Ceres is also interesting in that it is classified as both an asteroid and a dwarf planet. It is also truly a dwarf in size. Ceres is the smallest of all discovered dwarf planets in our solar system.
As NBC News reports, photos taken of Ceres by the Dawn Spacecraft have given scientists a glimpse of what may be to come. Aside from the strange bright spot, or thing that “reflects more sunlight,” images also suggest that Ceres may have numerous large craters as determined by distinctive dark and light spots on the dwarf planet.
One thing is for certain, the images taken most recently by the Dawn Spacecraft have come leaps and bounds ahead of the first pixelated image of Ceres we saw back in December.
Who is excited to see the first up-close images of Ceres’ surface in March once the Dawn Spacecraft is able to make it into orbit? What questions are you hoping scientists answer first?