Ceres’ mysterious bright spots come into focus

Occator crater on Ceres

Bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres show striking complexity in this new image from the Dawn spacecraft.

JPL-Caltech/NASA, UCLA, MPS, DLR, IDA

The Dawn spacecraft is getting up close and personal with two puzzling bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. Seen from an altitude of just 1,470 kilometers, the glaring patches show a lot of complexity. One bright bullseye lies in the center of a crater, named Occator, whose nearly vertical walls plummet 2 kilometers in some places. To the right, a half dozen smaller spots surround a fuzzy smudge.

Researchers won’t know what the spots are made of until they finish analyzing spectra taken by Dawn. Later this year, the spacecraft will drop to a final altitude of 375 kilometers for an unprecedented look at its new home. 

Christopher Crockett is a freelance science writer and editor based in Arlington, Va. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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