Home Front Page Scientists stunned after finding a second mystery bright spot on Ceres

Scientists stunned after finding a second mystery bright spot on Ceres

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is getting ever closer to the dwarf planet Ceres, and it has made a rather shocking discovering: there is a second bright spot in addition to the first, and scientists have no idea what it could be.

The new photo, which was released recently, gives a clearer image of the giant asteroid as the Dawn spacecraft gets closer in preparation for its arrival on March 5 and its scientific orbit in April, according to a Space.com report.

To scientists’ surprise, a second spot has appeared on its surface, and the smaller spot sits right next to the bigger spot in the same basin, according to Dawn principal investigator Chris Russell of UCLA, who was quoted in the report. Scientists are scratching their heads about what this could mean.

One possibility is a volcano-like formation, but that’s just a guess. The team will have to wait until Dawn gets closer to make a better estimation. Once the spacecraft is in orbit, it can get higher resolution photos and begin making geologic interpretations to unravel the mystery.

Ceres is the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and is the second giant asteroid approached during Dawn’s mission, which visited Vesta a couple years ago. The latest images were taken at a distance of 29,000 miles from Ceres on Feb. 19, and the dots are still too small to make out clearly.

It’s only increasing the excitement scientists have about the mission as Dawn gets closer and gears up to begin orbit in late April. The spacecraft will stay near Ceres until June 2016 when the $466 million mission is scheduled to come to an end. It will mark the end of a nearly decade-long journey that began with its launch in September 2007 to study both Ceres, which is 590 miles wide, and Vesta, which is 330 miles wide.

Data collected during the mission will provide vital clues to scientists on how the solar system and planets formed.