Ceres’ mystery spots get their close-up

Image: Occator Crater
The bright central spots near the center of Occator Crater are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Such views can be used to highlight subtle color differences on Ceres’ surface. The view combines high-resolution images of Occator from February with lower-resolution color data from September. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / PSI / LPI)

The scientists behind NASA’s Dawn mission today showed off their latest, greatest pictures of the dwarf planet Ceres, including close-up views of curious bright spots on the surface.

The car-sized Dawn spacecraft has been circling Ceres, the biggest mini-world in the solar system’s asteroid belt, for just more than a year. In Dawn’s distant views, the bright spots looked like alien headlights. The latest images, captured from a height of just 240 miles, reveal that the brightest spot is a fractured dome sticking up from 57-mile-wide Occator Crater.

Other bright areas appear to be highly reflective deposits, crisscrossed by linear features and fractures.

Dawn’s scientists discussed their latest data today at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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