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Our Best Look Yet at Ceres’ Mysterious Spots

No, it’s still not a hidden space station.

Returning images from May 3rd and 4th, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has just given us our best look yet at Ceres’ mysterious bright spots. The dwarf planet shown in this latest round of images is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the first to be visited by spacecraft. Below, the images are stitched together from a view 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers) above the surface to show a full rotation:

CeresLoop

Scientists still aren’t sure what those reflective spots are, but we can now see that the two original spots are actually comprised of many smaller spots.

“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said principal investigator on the Dawn mission Christopher Russell.

The Dawn spacecraft is still pretty far out. Each pixel in the images above represent 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) of surface. But this was just the first mapping run. Dawn will now start angling to enter its second, much closer (by three times) mapping run starting on June 6th. This is when the comprehensive mapping of Ceres’ surface will begin, and when we’ll finally figure out what these bright spots are.

IMAGES: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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