Washington: There's not one, but two bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres, scientists have found.
NASA 's Dawn spacecraft got closer to being captured into orbit around the object, and the latest images, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.
Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission said that the Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but they would have to wait for better resolution before making such geologic interpretations.
Using its ion propulsion system, Dawn will enter orbit around Ceres on March 6. As scientists receive better and better views of the dwarf planet over the next 16 months, they hope to gain a deeper understanding of its origin and evolution by studying its surface. The intriguing bright spots and other interesting features of this captivating world will come into sharper focus.
"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator.
Dawn visited the giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012, delivering more than 30,000 images of the body along with many other measurements, and providing insights about its composition and geological history. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), while Ceres has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers). Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.