We Can Now See Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots In a Lot More Detail

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has just sent home a new photo, a much closer look at the famous bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. Compared to the previous images taken from higher orbits, significantly more details can be seen in this new photo of the Occator crater.

The composite photo below was created using two images: one short exposure photo that captures the details in the bright spots, and one captured at normal exposure, where the background surface is not underexposed. Dawn took these images during the mission’s High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) phase, from an altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The resolution of this photo is about 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel:

Illustration for article titled We Can Now See Ceres Mysterious Bright Spots In a Lot More Detail

It’s still unclear what those bright areas in the crater are; we are waiting for scientists to come up with some explanation. As Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director says:

Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape. Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery.

This new view is likely going to help identify those spots, as it’s roughly three times better than the latest images. This animation I quickly made helps show the significant difference:



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Well, as it’s right in the middle of a crater, my money is going to be on ice (or something with a higher albedo than the surrounding surface) ejecta from whatever event made the crater. Probably liquiefied with the heat of the impact, and was flowing out of the center most recently (with maybe a few bonus spurts that sprayed the other area with some “snow”) before it all re-solidified.

That’s my layman’s take on it. Any geophysicists out there care to counter with a more educated hypothesis?