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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Water vapour discovered on dwarf planet Ceres

Artist's conception of the water vapour plumes coming from the surface of Ceres. Credit: IMCCE / Paris Observatory / CNRS
Artist’s conception of the water vapour plumes coming from the surface of Ceres. Credit: IMCCE / Paris Observatory / CNRS

The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, is releasing water vapour into space, astronomers announced yesterday. The discovery, made by the European Herschel space telescope, is being called the first unambiguous detection of water vapour around any object in the asteroid belt and was published today in the journal Nature.

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