Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots Likely Made Of Salt, Scientists Reveal

Posted: Dec 10 2015, 2:50am CST | by , Updated: Dec 10 2015, 9:07pm CST, in News | Latest Science News


Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots Likely Made of Salt, Study Reveals
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists have finally been able to solve the mystery of the dwarf planet Ceres.

Scientists were perplexed by the bright spots on the crater of the dwarf planet Ceres since they had been spotted earlier this year. But, now it seems they are inching closer to unlocking the mystery.

Thanks to the observations made by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, scientists have been able to provide new clues about these mysterious bright spots. 

In a recent study published in the journal Nature, scientists claim that Ceres’ bright spots are made of a salt like material. The material looks similar to a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite. It is closely related to the Epson salt, which is a salt type normally sold on Earth.

Scientists suggest that these mysterious bright spots may be created when water and ice made a transition at some point in the past. Pounding by massive asteroids could have allowed them to emerge from the surface.

"The global nature of Ceres' bright spots suggests that this world has a subsurface layer that contains briny water-ice.” Andreas Nathues, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, said.

Ceres has more than 130 bright areas but most of its surface is generally dark. The bright areas which are scattered throughout the dwarf planet’s surface are extremely bright and reflect about 50% of sunlight shinning on the area. The brightest of them all is the inner portion of a crater called Occator which itself is 60 miles in diameter. The crater rises sharply in some places and it is probably one of the youngest features on Ceres. Scientists estimate that it is not more than 78 million years old.

In a separate study, researchers have found wide evidence for ammonia rich clay. The presence of this mineral, which could only remain stable in freezing conditions of outer solar system, indicates that Ceres might have been formed out of solar system before being dragged into its present location in asteroid belt.

‘The presence of ammonia bearing species suggests that Ceres is composed of material accreted in an environment where ammonia and nitrogen were abundant.  Consequently, we think that this material originated in the outer cold solar system.” Lead author Maria Cristina De Sanctis from National Institute of Astrophysics, Rome said.

Nevertheless, a team of scientists on Dawn spacecraft are discussing these results and analyzing data to better understand the composition of the dwarf planet.


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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