Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Pyramid and bright spots on Ceres
Among the fascinating features on dwarf planet Ceres is an intriguing pyramid-shaped mountain protruding from a relatively smooth area.
Scientists estimate that this structure rises about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surface. NASA's Dawn spacecraft took this image from an altitude of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers). The image, with a resolution of 1,400 feet (410 meters) per pixel, was taken on June 6, 2015.
The mountain is peculiar, as there are a few other features like it in the surrounding region - or even the rest of the dwarf planet.
The structure is thought to rise about three miles (five km), which is roughly the height of Mont Blanc in France and Italy, the highest mountain in the Alps.
Another image reveals the bright spots in greater detail. Several can be seen next to the largest bright area, estimated to be six miles (9km) wide.
Ice and salt are the leading theories for what is causing this odd reflectivity.
‘It is exciting seeing these features come into sharper focus,’ Dr Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer, told MailOnline.
‘A few months ago, when Dawn began observing its new home from afar, we called it a bright spot. As the explorer closed in and provided better views, we realised it was two bright spots.
‘Now we see it is many. It’s still not clear what is causing these strong reflections, and I think still more data are needed.
‘Everyone has her or his own personal favorite theory, but the ultimate arbiter is nature. That is, we can all speculate, and we can offer arguments, but the answer is going to be clear soon.
‘My money is on the remnants from ice that has sublimated. The salts left behind then could be what’s reflecting the light.’
For more information about the Dawn mission, visit http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.