Dawn the NASA spacecraft beamed back new stunning photos of a set of mysterious bright spots on Ceres the dwarf planet. One of the images was taken May 16 from 4.500 miles away from the dwarf planet and had a resolution of 2.250 feet per pixel. UCLA Dr. Christopher Russell said that scientists operating the Dawn spacecraft now could conclude that the intense bright spots are due to a reflection of the sunlight by a very highly reflective substance on the surface of Ceres. They surmised that it could be from ice. Dr. Russell is the top investigator for Dawn’s mission.
Dawn reached Ceres March 6, which marked the first time one of the U.S. spacecrafts orbited a dwarf planet.
The Dawn spacecraft has used its ion propulsion system as its means of maneuvering into its second mapping Ceres orbit, which it reaches June 6.
The spacecraft will then remain at a 2,700-mile distance from the planet until the end of June. After that, it will move to even lower orbits.
The spacecraft was launched in 2007 and already has visited Vesta, a huge protoplanet that is currently located 104 million miles from Ceres.
The huge distance between Ceres and Vesta is more than what the distance is between the Sun and the Earth. During its more than 14 months of orbiting Vesta, the Dawn delivered insights that were unprecedented scientifically, including impressive images of the protoplanet’s cratered surfaces. It also gave important clues to scientists about its geological history.
NASA has asked the public for their opinions as to what the reason is for the bright spots on Ceres. Those opinions have included geysers, volcanoes, ice, rock, and others. Close to 30% of those who participated said, the bright spots were due to ice, while 10% said it was volcanoes and 9% said geysers.