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NASA scientists have seen the light. And it appears, on closer inspection, to have a "companion."
The problem is that researchers have little idea what the shiny spots observed on the mysterious dwarf planet Ceres could mean.
The space agency's Dawn spacecraft sent the photos back from the dwarf planet located between Mars and Jupiter, showing what appear to be tiny bright areas amid a rocky grey surface, lying side-by-side inside a circular depression,
The latest images were snapped at a distance of nearly 46,000 kilometres from Ceres.
A tight crop shows two bright spots in a basin on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. (NASA/JPL)
Dawn mission investigators have noticed a bright spot on the dwarf planet's surface before, but the new higher-resolution pictures indicate there are actually two bright areas close together.
"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, said in a statement.
"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."
Dawn is expected to enter orbit around Ceres on March 6, giving scientists another opportunity to get sharper views of the dwarf planet, which is estimated to have an average diameter of about 950 kilometres. By comparison, Earth has a diameter of roughly 12,742 kilometres.
"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. "This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us."
Experts have speculated that the glimmers captured on its surface may be ice reflecting sunlight.
Dawn's mission, which belongs to NASA's Discovery program, is to orbit one member of the main asteroid belt Vesta.
edit on 27-2-2015 by Abednego because: (no reason given)
originally posted by: SheopleNation
So what is this bright spot? The craft should be there now, yet everything is quiet in the news about it all of a sudden. So typical. Makes you kind of wonder eh? ~$heopleNation
originally posted by: MrBergstrom
WOW!! Can't wait!
Wildespace, do you know what time our time it'll be?
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is scheduled to enter Ceres’ orbit early on Friday, becoming the first ever probe to successfully visit a dwarf planet.
The rendezvous with Ceres’ gravity will take place around 7:30 a.m. ET, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., which is managing the mission.
“It’s a gentle handoff from the Sun’s orbit to Ceres’ orbit,” a JPL spokesman told FoxNews.com.
Ceres, which lies between Mars and Jupiter,will be 310 million miles from Earth at the time of Dawn's arrival.
Dawn’s antennas, however, are not scheduled to be in contact with Earth at the time of the rendezvous, but will be communicating with NASA shortly afterwards. “We have a scheduled pass with NASA’s deep space network that begins about an hour later,” said the JPL spokesman.