As NASA’s DAWN spacecraft began to spiral towards the dwarf planet Ceres, what remains puzzlesome for scientists was a bright spot that stands out in the middle from an apparent crater.
The latest images from Dawn, taken on Feb.19, nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) away from Ceres, reveal that the bright spot seen in the images lies close to yet another bright area, meaning a cluster of them together.
“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,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, LA.
Using its ion propulsion system, Dawn is set to enter Ceres orbit on March 6 and in the meantime, scientists have been dispatched closer and better views of the dwarf planet once it reaches the orbit next month and remains there for over 16 months.
The intriguing bright spots remain top focus as of now and Dawn is currently flying its approach trajectory to Ceres and is twice as close to Ceres as the moon is to Earth.
It has to halt its ion thrusting twice this month to take pictures of the dwarf planet for use in navigation. Termed as stunning though they are not, there is a brouhaha being created around the dwarf planet though the brights spots are keeping many eyes jarred.
These tantalizing glimpses are already raising expectations for an exciting mission there, and they will be followed by even better views next month. However, the brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with Dawn’s camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres, say scientists.
“This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator of camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.
Prior to this visit, Dawn visited the giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012, delivering more than 30,000 images of it providing insights about its composition and geological history.
esta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), while Ceres has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers) and it is nearer to Ceres.
Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter, said researchers who are monitoring the Dawn’s mission from JPL in California.