Astronomers have observed changes in Ceres' bright spots

Astronomers Have Observed Changes In Ceres' Bright Spots

About a year ago when news of the bright spots on Ceres broke, scientists were puzzled by the mysterious marks.

The situation has just become even more perplexing, as a recently published study reveals that observations show the glowing features change intensity over time.

Variations in reflected light seem to coincide with exposure to the sun.

See images of the stunning dwarf planet:

New Photos of Ceres
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Astronomers have observed changes in Ceres' bright spots

This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows Kupalo Crater, one of the youngest craters on Ceres. The crater has bright material exposed on its rim and walls, which could be salts. Its flat floor likely formed from impact melt and debris.


This image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft shows part of Messor Crater (25 miles or 40 kilometers, wide), located at northern mid-latitudes on Ceres. The scene shows an older crater in which a large lobe-shaped flow partly covers the northern (top) part of the crater floor. The flow is a mass of material ejected when a younger crater formed just north of the rim.


The fractured floor of Dantu Crater on Ceres is seen in this image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Similar fractures are seen in Tycho, one of the youngest large craters on Earth's moon. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the crater floor was uplifted after the crater formed.


NASA's Dawn spacecraft viewed this Cerean crater, which is covered in ridges and steep slopes, called scarps on Dec. 23, 2015. These features likely resulted when the crater partly collapsed during its formation. The curvilinear nature of the scarps resembles those on the floor of Rheasilvia, the giant impact crater on Vesta, which Dawn orbited from 2011 to 2012.


This image of Ceres was taken in Dawn's low-altitude mapping orbit around a crater chain called Gerber Catena. A 3-D view is also available.

(Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on December 10, shows an area in southern hemisphere of the dwarf planet. It is located at approximately 85.6 south longitude, 176.6 east longitude.


This view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on December 10, shows an area in the southern mid-latitudes of the dwarf planet. It is located in an area around a crater chain called Samhain Catena, at approximately 23.2 south latitude, 216.8 east longitude.


An image of Occator Crater draped over a digital terrain model provides a 3-D-like perspective view of the impact structure.  Several bright areas can be seen in this crater. The inner part of the crater forms a type of “crater within a crater” measuring about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in diameter and 0.3 miles (0.5 miles) in depth, and contains the brightest material on all of Ceres. Occator measures about 60 miles (90 kilometers) wide.


This view from NASA's Dawn spacecraft features a crater named Oxo, which is about 6 miles (9 kilometers) in diameter. A short, linear slump, where a mass of material has dropped below the surface, is seen to the left of Oxo's crater rim.



The study's lead author Paolo Molaro of the INAF-Trieste Astronomical Observatory believes that could mean the material involved in the appearance of the spots is something that turns to vapor when heated.

The resulting haze could scatter the sun's rays, producing the brightening effect.

Since the mysterious spots were discovered, a number of theories about their composition have emerged.

The new discovery does not necessarily prove or disprove any, but does add the possibility the dwarf planet is geologically active.

Coming to any definitive resolution will likely take some time.

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