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“ It's the outdoor stadium lights for the World Ceres. ”

Kent Merritt NPRThursday, February 26, 2015 12:38 PM


Scientists are puzzled by a new image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which found two bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. The spots are noticeably brighter than other parts of the surface, which looks to be rocky and pockmarked.

Ceres lies in an asteroid belt between the paths of Mars and Jupiter. A white area was previously seen in 2004, in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. But new images show there are actually two spots, and scientists do not know what's causing them.

"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin," says Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission that's based at the University of California, Los Angeles. "This may be pointing to a volcanolike origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations."

The image was taken on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles, NASA says. The Dawn craft will eventually enter into orbit around Ceres, promising even sharper images of the mysterious spots.