NASA's Dawn is homing in on the white spots on Ceres and still nobody knows what they are

Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft gets closer to the dwarf planet Ceres, the mystery of the bright white spots first seen on it back in 2004 has deepened.

Back then, Hubble sighted a white splotch on the tiny planet which abides in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

More recently, in February this year, the “splotch” became “bright white spots” as Dawn moved within 46,000km of Ceres. There were two, and they sat in the same basin on the planet’s surface.

Speculation grew. It was definitely something reflective, most likely ice. (Yet to be confirmed.)

One likelihood was that Ceres is actually coated in dust, and the ice shines out from the craters because it had somehow avoided a coating.

But here’s the latest images, taken from 13,400km on May 3 and 4:

Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

10 spots!

And they’re all inside the same 88km wide crater in Ceres’s northern hemisphere.

You can also see some evidence of long cracks, which could be impact related.

So far, Dawn has made just the one complete 15-day orbit around Ceres, but on June 6, it will begin a second orbit bringing it down to just 4400km above the surface.

NASA reports it will stop for a couple of shots on the way down, so hopefully we’ll get more shots of the spots sooner.

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