Exciting new evidence unravels mystery of Ceres bright spots, now known to be a patchwork of salt and ice. Two studies published in the Nature journal shed light on the nature of the bright spots observed on the dwarf planet and the chemical composition of some of its surface features.
Ceres is still much of a mystery to scientists observing the dwarf planet. But thanks to NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, the mysteries of the dwarf planet are being slowly unraveled.
The latest observations and data compiled by Dawn spacecraft have been analyzed and revealed the nature of the bright spots on Ceres. The bright material on the surface of the dwarf planet is a type of salt.
During past observations, Dawn spacecraft has spotted over 130 bright areas all over the surface of Ceres. Most of the bright spots are linked with impact craters, possibly the result of asteroids clashing with the planet. According to the research team led by Andreas Nathues with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the bright spots are composed of a salt, a type of magnesium sulfate.
This type of magnesium sulfate is known as hexahydrite. On Earth, surface features contain a different type of magnesium sulfate known as Epsom salt. Exciting new evidence unravels mystery of Ceres bright spots. Images captured by Dawn spacecraft’s framing camera indicate that the bright spots consistent with salt-rich areas were created as water-ice withdrew in the past.
Following, asteroids clashing with the dwarf planet would have brought the ice and salt mixture to the surface. According to Andreas Nathues, the bright spots on Ceres suggest that there is a layer of water-ice underneath the surface of the dwarf planet. Nonetheless, more data is needed to fully understand if this is indeed the case or not.
The surface of the dwarf planet has been measured to be 584 miles in diameter. Predominantly dark, the bright spots offer a diverse feature to Ceres, being spread all around the planet. The brightest of the patches reflect 50 percent of sunlight alone.
The brightest area on Ceres is located in the Occator crater. Occator crates is only 60 miles in diameter. However, the central pit of Occator crater, the brightest region on Ceres is 6 miles in diameter and 0.3 miles in depth.
Occator crater is believed to be a young surface feature on Ceres, with its age estimated at around 78 million years old. Another exciting finding linked to Occator crater suggests that something similar to morning dew is forming above the crater, enveloping the surface in a difuse haze. According to the research team, this could indicate water vapors lifting at noon and collecting particles on their way.
Photo Credits: JPL, NASA