While many scientists believe the bright spots are caused by reflection from ice, some hold to other explanations, such as the presence of salt.
It shows what NASA described in its classically understated and totally non-freaked-out tones as “a mountain with steep slopes protruding from a relatively smooth area of the dwarf planet’s surface”.
So, the pyramid is situated on a surprisingly flat plain, whereas the planet’s floor is marked by craters, historic lava flows, and landslides.
Dwarf planet Ceres gets weirder and weirder as nasa.gov/” target=”_blank”>Dawn spacecraft draws near to its surface.
As astronomers learn more about Ceres as Dawn continues its study of the body, they are learning more about the geological processes that helped to form the dwarf planet.
Dawn’s infrared mapping spectrometer allows scientists to identify specific minerals on Ceres by looking at how light is reflected. All indications point to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but no one could tell for sure until the spacecraft came closer. But these are incomparable to those seen on Ceres because there are more pits inside a single crater.
The bright spots on Ceres are going to remain a mystery for a small while longer.
Launched in September 2007, Dawn entered orbit around Ceres on March 6 of this year after spending 14 months orbiting the large proto-planet Vesta in 2011 and 2012. Ceres appears to have more of these pit-type formations in large craters than was expected.
Since then, it’s been photographing and mapping the dwarf planet, with onlookers particularly interested in the bright white spots inside a 92km wide crater.
The bright spots “make Ceres special from anything we’ve seen before in the solar system”, said the Dawn mission’s principal investigator Chris Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles, in a JPL statement last week. NASA‘s Dawn spacecraft took this image from an altitude of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers). It was the first asteroid known to astronomers, and remains not only the largest object in the asteroid belt, but the biggest of the minor planets within the orbit of Neptune.
This isn’t the primary discovery on the dwarf planet.
Ceres also has numerous craters of varying sizes, many of which have central peaks. Scientists estimate its height at 3 miles above the surface.
Both Ceres and Vesta are thought to be largely intact proto-planets left over from the solar system’s early days (hence the mission’s name).