NASA’s Dawn spacecraft spots pyramid-shaped structure on Ceres

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is currently orbiting dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, at an altitude of 2,700 miles above its rocky surface. Back in mid-February, Dawn spotted some mysterious bright spots on the surface that kicked off a rash of speculation as to what their source could be. Over the past few weeks, NASA has continued to release images from the dwarf planet, and Dawn is scheduled to move even closer to the surface after it completes its eighth trip around Ceres.

Noteworthy images of Ceres:

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In this image, released on June 10th, the bright spots are depicted in sharper detail than ever before. The bright spots occur in a crater about 55 miles across and contain different individual bright points that cluster around a central source

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This image, captured by Dawn on June 6th and released on June 16th, shows a bright, reflective area in a large crater on Ceres’ surface. While various explanations for the bright spots have been proposed, the recent higher resolution images suggest it could just be reflective patches of ice or salts. This would make sense, as a European Space Agency team reported early last year that the planet may contain more freshwater than Earth.

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Another intriguing feature of the surface of Ceres is the three-mile high pyramid-shaped mountain jutting out of a relatively flat surface, seen in the upper right of this image released on Wednesday.

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This image depicts a massive crater in Ceres’ southern hemisphere.

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An image taken by Dawn on June 6 reveals an even more heavily pockmarked northern hemisphere.

Gorgeous pictures aside, the bright spots have scientists more intrigued than anything else.

“The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from anything we’ve seen before in the solar system. The science team is working to understand their source. Reflection from ice is the leading candidate in my mind, but the team continues to consider alternate possibilities, such as salt. With closer views from the new orbit and multiple view angles, we soon will be better able to determine the nature of this enigmatic phenomenon,” said Dawn mission principal investigator Chris Russell.

Dawn has yet to provide the closest and sharpest images of Ceres’ surface, which will hopefully give scientists the evidence they need to solve the mystery on everyone’s minds.

About Author

Adam Cameron spent his academic career learning about Iran, but ultimately decided that a job in the military-security-industrial complex just wasn't for him. He worked with Iranian refugees for a few years and has always dreamed of being a writer. He lives in North Hollywood, California in an 8-bit cocoon made out of an elaborate blanket fort covered in Adventure Time posters.

2 Comments

  1. chrislandau@yahoo.com'
    Chris Landau on

    It looks like a common or garden volcano to me, steep sided with the same white material on the sides that is being spewed out of the famous bright spot geyser or volcano that the world has been marketing to death as an Alien civilization or salt or ice
    Chris Landau (geologist)
    June 21st 2015

    • walter.demel@gmail.com'

      The volcano theory is nice and well until you realize that there is likely no basis for volcanic activity. Even moreso than our moon Ceres is much too small to have maintained a molten rock core and it is believed to have a thick layer of frozen ice below a relatively thin outer layer.
      Of course a purely natural explanation for the observed anomalies is still by far the most likely scenario, but there is definitely an increasingly larger than zero percent probability for a different explanation like remnants of an extra-solar von Neumann probe. This would explain the reflectivity and craters that look like extensive opencast mining activites have taken place. Given the likely lack of volcanic activity and tectonic movements (which are not visible anywhere else on Ceres) the lonely mountain with its lighter patches also seems curious.