NASA releases amazing pics of Ceres



From JPL. Those white spots are an intriguing mystery.

This animation shows a sequence of images taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 4, 2015, from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers), in its RC3 mapping orbit. The image resolution is 0.8 mile (1.3 kilometers) per pixel.

In this closest-yet view, the brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are revealed to be composed of many smaller spots. However, their exact nature remains unknown.

The BBC provides some context:

What were initially thought to be just a couple of brilliant, closely spaced features at one location now turn out to be a clutch of many smaller dots.
The latest pictures were acquired by the US space agency's Dawn spacecraft on its first full science orbit since arriving at Ceres on 6 March.
The spots were seen from a distance of 13,600km.

Researchers on the mission concede they still have much to learn about the dots' true nature, but the new data is hardening their ideas.

"Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice," said Chris Russell, who is the principal investigator on the mission.

Ceres is a dwarf planet and the largest object in the astroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter. Too dim to be seen with the naked eye, it is about 487km across. Here it is to scale with the Earth and the Moon, in an image created by Jcpag2012 and posted to the Wikimedia Commons.


Though among the lesser-known celestial bodies, Ceres is popular in fiction.