With our ever closer looks at Ceres’ surface, we’ve been hoping to get close enough to finally see a bit more about where those two mystery light splotches were coming from. Well, now we have. And, it turns out that we were wrong about one very basic fact: There were not two of them.
There were actually lots and lots.
After taking a look at the surface from 8,400 miles away (the closest look yet), NASA scientists reported back two things: One, that the two bright spots were actually composed of many smaller bright spots, and, two, that their brightness was due to sunlight. Principal investigator Christopher Russell noted:
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.
Of course, even though we now know how, the question of what it is — ice? space volcanoes? thousands of little Ceres roverbots outfitted in their own tinfoil hats? (NOTE: it is not that last one) — still remains. Until our next closest look, at least.
Image: Ceres in rotation with each pixel signifying .8 miles / NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.