The mysterious spots on Ceres shine brightly in NASA’s latest images of the dwarf planet.
The images, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from 4,500 feet above Ceres, provide the closest view yet of the planet’s surface. Taken on May 16 and released by NASA on May 20, the images clearly show the group of bright spots that have been mystifying scientists.
NASA has even invited the public to give their thoughts on the spots via an online poll.
An earlier set of images, taken by Dawn on May 3 and 4, revealed that the brightest spots in a crater within Ceres’ northern hemisphere are actually composed of many smaller spots. While the exact nature of the spots is unknown, scientists believe that they may be caused by ice.
An animation produced by NASA also showed a sequence of Ceres images taken during Dawn’s first mapping orbit. Dawn will enter its second mapping orbit June 9, circling Ceres every three days at a distance of 2,700 miles. The spacecraft will remain at that distance until June 30, when it will make its way to lower orbits.
During the second mapping orbit, which is also known the survey orbit, the spacecraft will comprehensively map Ceres' surface, according to NASA. It will also assess whether Ceres is geologically active.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully entered Ceres' orbit March 6, making history as the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. Scientists hope that NASA’s investigation of Ceres will boost our understanding of how the solar system formed.