A new study published in the journal Nature reflects the divergent views of space scientists as to the origin and nature of the mysterious crater and bright marks seen on dwarf planet Ceres.
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Some scientists believe the bright spots seen in the largest of the craters might be frozen water or ice, and yet others think it might be salt deposits; and others are tempted to say it is volcanic flows or even geysers.
Ceres is the first asteroid and the largest of its kind to be discovered in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is about 590 miles or 950 km in diameter and the largest asteroid among other small planets orbiting Neptune.
The images of the mysterious crater and bright object within it was taken by the Dawn spacecraft’s Framing Camera. A researcher from Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Goettingen, Germany, Andreas Nathues, led other scientists to analyze the images captured by Dawn to enable them properly investigate things happening on Ceres.
It is true that that surface of Ceres is asphalt-black, but it shows over 130 spots that are very bright in space images – leading scientists to think the bright spots could be water ice reflecting direct sunlight – although they could as well be something else.
Some other scientists think water ice sublimation may be occurring on the surface of Ceres. Sublimation is the direct change of an object from a solid state to a gaseous state without the intermediate state of liquid. If this phenomenon is occurring on Ceres, then it might give rise to haze clouds which are actually composed of ice and dust particles generated from within the craters on the surface of Ceres.
The only issue observed here is that the bright spots can be clearly seen in daytime but they disappear at night.
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The Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 into space, and for the past 8 years has been journeying to Ceres. At the moment, it is making a 7-week close-up to the large body and it will orbit Ceres at 235 miles or 380 km above its surface, the closest it will be to date to the body.