Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest and most massive object in the asteroid belt, and thanks to the Dawn spacecraft, we can now get a detailed look at its bizarre topography. Marc Rayman from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (and Dawn’s mission director) takes us through the visual data Dawn has amassed so far, pointing out some mysterious geological features.
By Rachel Pick|MOTHERBOARD
First, Ceres has several glowing bright spots on its surface, that reflect a lot more light than the rest of the surface for reasons yet unknown. There are a number of theories as to the spots’ composition: ice, a salt deposit, a volcano, or simply rock. However, no determination can be made until Dawn gets closer to Ceres’ surface.
Second, Ceres has a mountain roughly the height of Mt. McKinley in Alaska, with a yet unexplained striation pattern on its slopes. The most unusual thing about the mountain is that it does not appear to have been formed in connection with a crater, and scientists can’t tell precisely how Ceres’ geology formed such a peak. Dawn team member Paul Schenk says, “It’s unusual that it’s not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don’t know yet, but we may find out with closer observations.” The Dawn craft is scheduled to orbit at a distance that is three times closer to Ceres later this month, so more data may be forthcoming.