Two bright lights are emanating from the dwarf planet Ceres, captured on camera by the approaching Dawn spacecraft, and NASA astronomers are at a loss to explain them.
The planetoid, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, will be visited on March 6 by the spacecraft, according to Mashable. While Dawn approached the planet earlier this year, it relayed images to Earth that depicted a singular bright spot, as the Inquisitr previously reported. Earlier this month, on February 19, the spacecraft captured a photo of Ceres that revealed two bright lights shining from the same basin. It is now clear that the two areas reflect roughly 40 percent of the light that strikes them.
NASA's Astronomy Picture Of The Day: Dark Craters And Bright Spots Revealed On Asteroid Ceres http://t.co/LSZ6arrKWW pic.twitter.com/JRhQaftN0AChris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, noted in a NASA statement that the spacecraft was still too far away from Ceres to generate high resolution images of the lights.
— Socks On An Octopus (@socksonoctopus) February 19, 2015
"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," he noted.
This year @NASA_Dawn and @NASANewHorizons will visit 2 of 5 known #dwarfplanets of our Solar System, #Ceres & #Pluto. pic.twitter.com/LK0FoBThHiScientists have postulated several explanations for the lights on Ceres. The most obvious possibility is that the cameras on Dawn have picked up light reflecting off ice, possibly emanating from cryovolcanoes on the surface. Researchers have previously detected signs of water vapor on the surface of Ceres, making it a likely option. However, ice would reflect more than 40 percent of ambient light. The resolution of Dawn's cameras at the spacecraft's current distance, however, may be to blame for the difference in light reflection.
— Ronald Drimmel (@rdrimmel) February 19, 2015
Several scientists have also suggested that the lights may actually be large patches of salt. Some in the UFO community, meanwhile, have asserted that the lights on Ceres could be the work of extraterrestrials, as the Inquisitr has also recently reported.
While Dawn draws closer to Ceres over the course of the next week, more data will become available as the spacecraft's cameras are brought into range of the dwarf planet, allowing for higher resolution images to be taken. After arriving at Ceres, Dawn will provide images for 16 months, ample time to explain the mysterious lights.
[Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA]