NASA's Dawn spacecraft has snapped another image of the dwarf planet Ceres, bringing into focus two mysterious white spots present on the face of the rocky body that appear to exist within the same basin. The spacecraft and its handlers back on Earth are currently preparing for capture into Ceres' orbit, which is expected to take place on March 12.
Launched in September 2007, Dawn has traveled around 1.7 billion miles under the power of its three ion engines. The new image was snapped at a distance of 29,000 miles (46,000 km) from the planet, and appears to show a dominant white spot and a lesser companion resting together. The prominent feature is baffling agency scientists, who currently have no solid explanation as to the nature and cause of the spots.
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"This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," states Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission.
Previously Dawn had visited another of its primary scientific objectives, the asteroid Vesta. Over the course of its year-long mission, the orbiter snapped an impressive 30,000 images of the rocky body, discovering much about the formative period of the early solar system along the way. Undoubtedly, a similar analysis of the dwarf planet Ceres will unlock the secrets of the white spots, and a great many other things as it completes its epic mission.