Astronomers Spot Unexpected Changes In Ceres' Bright Spots

Posted: Mar 16 2016, 11:41pm CDT | by , Updated: Mar 16 2016, 11:44pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Astronomers Spot Unexpected Changes in Ceres' Bright Spots
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Mysterious bright spots on ceres' surface are far more complexed than originally thought

Bright spots on Ceres are far more mysterious than has previously been assumed.

Astronomers have discovered perplexing bright spots on dwarf planet’s surface last year. Ever since, they are trying to work out what exactly are those spots made of.

Last year, researchers captured several high-resolution images of the bright spots lying inside the crater Occater and provided important clues about the formation of those bright spots.

Now, a team of researchers have made new observations of the mysterious bright spot using powerful HARPS spectrograph at La Silla Observatory in Chile. Researchers not only detected the motion of the spots due to rotation of the Ceres at its axis but also found unexpected changes in those bright spots as a result of the rotation. Researchers found that bright spots were fluctuating in a way that had not been predicted. They were like evaporating in sunlight and freezing at night.

“The result was a surprise,” said co-researcher Antonio Lanza. “We did find the expected changes to the spectrum from the rotation of Ceres, but with considerable other variations from night to night.”

The observations were carried out in July and August 2015 for a little over two nights and may be indicating that Ceres is much more geologically active world than anyone expected.

“As soon as Dawn spacecraft revealed the mysterious bright spots on the surface of Ceres, I immediately thought of the possible measureable effects from Earth,” said lead researcher Paolo Molaro. “As Ceres rotates the spots approach the Earth and then recede again, which affects the spectrum of the reflected sunlight arriving at Earth.”

Ceres spins every nine hour. Though, the motion of spots towards and away the Earth caused by the spinning of Ceres is very small -20 kilometers per hour – still it’s observable with high-precision instruments like HARPS.

Using these observations, researchers suggest that there may be volatile substances on the dwarf planet’s surface that evaporate as the Sun warms and cause changes to bright spots. The changes, however, are not consistent. Additional random patterns have been observed from night to night on both shorter and longer timescales.

Researchers need more data to figure out why those fluctuations happen and more research may lead to more unexpected observations.

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