That’s no moon, that’s a dwarf planet. At roughly 590 miles in diameter, Ceres is far from being an inhabitable planet, but this fascinating object in the asteroid belt is just too interesting to pass up. It wasn’t only its size that attracted astronomers to Ceres, but also the mystery surrounding a big white dot that appeared on its surface and stayed there. Hubble had snapped a photo of the planet, but it was not able to get a good resolution of the surface. One thing was certain, that there was something unusual on the surface, and that led to NASA’s $466 million space mission.
NASA’s Dawn Probe Closes In On Ceres But Opens Up New Mysteries
As expected with a giant rock that’s been floating around the asteroid belt for billions of years, Ceres looks about as badly beat up as a used Oldsmobile. As Dawn gets closer and closer to its final orbit around the planet, the resolution of the planet’s photos improves. Over the past months we have begun to see more and more detail than ever before, but it’s not exactly clearing up the story behind the planet.
Ceres appears to be covered with deep dark craters, similar to those found on our Moon. Scientists had expected for the white dot in the photos to be the reflection from ice located near the bottom of one of those craters. It actually is beginning to appear that the source of the white dot may be located at the peak of a formation instead. If this is the case, this would be puzzling. It’s not like Ceres has an atmosphere and a weather system that would deposit snow or ice at the top of a mountain peak.
There will need to be a lot more data collected, and higher resolution photos taken before we can make a more educated guess at what lies on the surface. In the meantime, NASA’s laboratories will continue to pour over the more and more detailed photographs that they get back from their fancy space probe.
NASA’s Dawn Probe Closes In On Ceres But Opens Up New Mysteries.