NASA has released an animated 3D flyby constructed from images harvested by the Dawn spacecraft, focusing on two of the dwarf planet Ceres' most fascinating features – the unexplained bright spots in the newly named Occator crater, and a solitary mountain, the peak of which represents one of the highest points on the enigmatic body.
Dawn's mission to survey and better understand Ceres is now well underway, with last month seeing some of the dwarf planet's most prominent regions and geological features receiving official designations from the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU decided to name the features on Ceres after deities selected from a diverse range of cultures
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Dawn is currently transitioning to its third mapping orbit, which will see the spacecraft fly to within 900 miles (1,448 km) of Ceres. However even with Dawn moving ever closer to its final scientific target, and producing ever clearer images and readings, NASA scientists have been unable to ascertain the composition of the strange white spots featured in the video.
Whilst the agency was unable to conclusively put the mystery to rest, it was able to rule out one possible substance. It was discovered that measurements of light reflected by the bright spots were not consistent with what would be expected should the phenomena be consisted of concentrations of ice.
With ice looking to be an unlikely source, Dawn's science team will now attempt to rule out salt as the cause of the bright spots. Other observations by the probe have revised our approximation of the size of Ceres, with NASA updating its estimate of the dwarf plant's diameter from 590 miles (950 km) to 584 miles (940 km).
The second point of interest in the video release is a lonely mountain (seen above), the formation of which is currently baffling astronomers. The mountain, which looms 4 miles (6.4 km) above the surrounding landscape, is characterized by steep slopes and bright streaks on one side.
"This mountain is among the tallest features we've seen on Ceres to date," states Dawn science team member Paul Schenk. "It's unusual that it's not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don't know yet, but we may find out with closer observations."
Scroll down for a look at the Ceres flyby courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, narrated by mission director Marc Rayman.
Source: NASA JPL