The bright spots on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres continue to be a source of fascination for astronomers, professional and amateur alike. Now, NASA has provided the most detailed images yet of the strange structures.
Scientist have already established that that the spots are essentially giant piles of salt, though recently it came to light that they seem to be constantly changing. Now, images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft show the spots in images captured just 240 miles above the dwarf planet’s surface.
The craft took a stunning image of the Occator Crater, which is 57 miles across, 2.5 miles deep and contains the brightest spot on Ceres. You can see the original image below and an enhanced colour close up above.
The crater appears to be criss-crossed by fractures and linear features, which, according to scientists from NASA, “suggests geologic activity in the recent past.” But they’ll need to carry out further studies to work whether or not that’s actually the case.
The team also revealed a new image created by Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND), which uses neutrons and gamma rays generated by cosmic ray interactions with the surface of the planet to indicate its chemical makeup. The image, below, shows a rich mixture of constituent elements — but interestingly a hydrogen concentration at the poles.
That, the team reckons, could hint at the presence of some water at the polar regions of the dwarf planet, given that hydrogen is so abundant in water. But that will also require far more work to verify.
So for now, just take a look at these very pretty images. [NASA]