Tag Archives: asteroid

Welcome to Ceres

Welcome to a new world.  The largest asteroid is now being visited.  It’s also the smallest dwarf planet.  NASA’s Dawn is currently nearing Ceres and will be entering into orbit around it over the next day.  We’ve been treated to some great images of it over the last month.

A couple months ago, we knew there was a bright spot on Ceres.  A month ago, we could see it was still there.  A couple weeks ago, we saw that it was very bright and small.  More recently, we found out it was actually two bright spots.  But we don’t see it clearly enough yet.

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

Just look at that.  What the hell is that?  It’s so much brighter than the surrounding surface, and even as it passes over the terminator from day into night, it’s still bright for a short time.  It’s in the centre of a large impact crater, so it’s possible it’s the central peak of the crater.  However, there are two of them.  Could they be fresh impact craters that revealed ice below the dark regolith?  Or are they ice volcanoes?

As Dawn explores Ceres over the next year, we should learn a lot about it.

What do you think that bright spot is?

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The Great White Spot of Ceres

Dawn is approaching Ceres.  In just over a month, on March 6th, Dawn will enter orbit around the largest asteroid and one of the so-called dwarf planets.  It’s 952 km in diameter, which is pretty big for an object that isn’t quite a planet.  It’s relatively spherical, as well.

There are many mysteries that will be addressed as Dawn orbits Ceres, including whether it may have a possible liquid water ocean lurking beneath its icy crust, and if it’s venting water vapour into a possible tenuous atmosphere.  But the big thing that many people are wondering is what’s that bright spot?

PIA19168-Ceres-DawnSpacecraft-20150113-AnimationThe above animation was captured by Dawn on January 13th, 2015, and this is the best view we had of Ceres up to that date.  There are evidently impact craters.  The bright spot is easily visible in the images.  But what is it?  Is it fresh ice from a liquid ocean below?  Or is it a recent impact crater?  Either one is possible, but my guess is that it’s a fresh crater.  What’s wonderful is that we’ll know very soon.

jan25-dawn-ceresAnd looking at the most recent image from January 25th, we get an even clearer view.

What do you think that bright spot is?