Since NASA released the first blurry images of Ceres, people wanted to know, “What are the white spots on the surface of the dwarf planet?” The planet has obvious craters, but the white spots are something else entirely different.
According to Daily Galaxy, Ceres is a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres orbits the sun, has a diameter of 590 miles, and many scientists believe it has or had a potential for holding life.
On Feb. 4, 2015, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres and snapped some pictures at approximately 90,000 miles away. The surface was pockmarked with many craters. When you’re orbiting in the midst of an asteroid belt, you can’t expect to come out of it unscathed.
The white spots caused much speculation about the dwarf planet. It has been suggested that the white spots on Ceres could be frost-covered peaks. Some think the white spots are accumulations of ice, and some people think it could be some sort of light material. Hopefuls are excited and wish the white spots are actually alien cities.
According to NBC News, UCLA planetary scientist Chris Russell is the principal investigator for the $466 million mission, and said in an email that the planet may hold more mystery than anything else.
“We are at a phase in the mission where the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the nature of the surface. But the surface is different from that of other planets, and at this stage the increasing resolution [in the photos] presents more mysteries rather than answers them.”
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around Ceres sometime in March, 2015. In the meantime, Russell continues to study the material he has gained from the mission so far.
“Naively we expect a bright region to be fresh and a dark region to be old. So the surface of Ceres seems to have a number of circular features of varying freshness on a predominantly dark, presumably old surface,” Russell wrote in his email to NBC News.
“The one type of feature that clearly came into view this time were examples of central peak craters with overall similarity to large lunar craters.”
Our world may still have some time to wait before we ever know what the white spots definitively are on Ceres, but when one question in space is answered, there are likely to be several more which will spring up that cannot yet be answered.
[Images via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA]