Mystery solved? odd bright spots on Ceres explained as salt deposits

False color view of Occator crater on Ceres, showing the unusual bright spots. The image was taken by the framing camera on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from a distance of about 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
False color view of Occator crater on Ceres, showing the unusual bright spots. The image was taken by the framing camera on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from a distance of about 4,400 kilometres (2,700 miles). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

There now might be a definitive answer to a puzzle which has intrigued both scientists and the public for some time: What are those odd bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres? A new study suggests they are a type of salt, originating from a subsurface layer of briny water-ice. Another study points to the existence of ammonia-rich clays on Ceres.

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Haze detected above mystery bright spots on Ceres

The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The brightest of the bright spots on Ceres, in Occator crater. Haze detected above them may help scientists determine if they are made of ice, salts or something else. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The intriguing bright spots on dwarf planet/asteroid Ceres have been fascinating the public and scientists alike for the past few months, and now a new discovery might provide a valuable clue as to just what these spots are made of: the Dawn spacecraft has detected a periodic haze over the brightest spots in Occator crater.

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Image Gallery: new views of mystery bright spots on Ceres

The most well-known bright spots, now seen to be multiple small spots. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The most well-known bright spots, now seen to be multiple small spots. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Some new views of Ceres were released today from the Dawn spacecraft, which include the now-famous mystery bright spots, as well as some new spots not seen before. The most prominent “double spot” as previously viewed, can now be seen to be multiple spots of various sizes.

Read MoreImage Gallery: new views of mystery bright spots on Ceres

Image Gallery: mystery bright spots on Ceres

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The bright spots on Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft has almost reached the dwarf planet Ceres, and a lot more detail can be seen as it gets closer. The odd bright spots which have puzzled scientists for a long time now can also be seen more clearly for the first time. What was thought to be one spot in this crater is now obviously two close together. Are they exposed ice or some other material? Are they related to possible cryovolcanoes? Dawn was 46,000 kilometers (29,000 miles) away when it took this image on February 18, 2015.

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Mystery gullies discovered on asteroid Vesta

Gullies in the crater Cornelia on Vesta. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA/MPS / DLR / IDA

The Dawn spacecraft left behind the giant asteroid Vesta last September, and is now en route to the even bigger dwarf planet Ceres, but scientists are still busy studying all of the data that was sent back to Earth while it was orbiting Vesta for over a year. And as often happens while exploring these new worlds, they have made a surprising discovery: long, sinuous gullies on the walls of geologically younger craters.

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