Dawn zooms in on white spots, finds pyramid-like mountain on Ceres
Fresh images snapped byNASA's Dawn spacecraft have provided a clearer look atthe enigmatic white spots that mark the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.The spots have baffled scientists who are unable to discern their nature or composition. To add to the intrigue the probe has spotted asolitary, unusual pyramid-like mountain jutting out of the otherwiserelatively smooth surface.
The new images wereproduced as Dawn undertook a second mapping orbit of the dwarf planetfrom a distance of around 2,700 miles (4,400 km). On closerinspection, it appears that at least eight smaller spots arescattered next to a large primary spot in a 55-mile (90 km) widecrater.
The largest spot isestimated to be around 6 miles (9 km) wide, however exactly what it is and how it came to be remains a mystery. It is likely that thereflective nature of the phenomenon is owed to a composition of saltor ice, though further observation with the spacecraft's infraredmapping spectrometer will allow scientists to hone their theories.
What's more, the bright spots are not the only geological points ofinterest on Ceres.
“The surface of Cereshas revealed many interesting and unique features," says deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission Carol Raymond. "For example, icymoons in the outer solar system have craters with central pits, buton Ceres central pits in large craters are much more common. These and other features will allow us to understandthe inner structure of Ceres that we cannot sense directly."
The close mapping orbitalso allowed the probe to capture images of an unusual pyramid-likemounting jutting out of the relatively smooth surface of Ceres. Itssolitude, and the steep nature of its slopes seem at odds with thebarren landscape as it looms 3 miles (5 km) above the surface.
In time, Dawn willgrant us a better view of the mysterious formation, but until then,the peak will undoubtedly become a conspiracy theorists favourite,alongside other treasured myths such as the fabled face on Mars.
Dawn's next move wil beto establish a new orbit of 900 miles (1,450 km) above Ceressurface, which it should achieve in early August.