Scientists are puzzled by the cause of the bright spot on the surface of Ceres, which is located between Mars and Jupiter. It is around 590 miles in diameter, making it the largest body in the asteroid belt, and scientists believe it contains a large amount of ice, according to Fox News.
Cryovolcanoes on the surface of Ceres?
The Dawn spacecraft had previously sent back images showing a different bright spot, but scientists have no definitive explanation for their existence.
“Ceres’ bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin,” said Chris Russell, a principal investigator for the Dawn mission.
“This maybe pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations,” Russell said.
The volcano theory arises from the fact that cryovolcanoes are known to exist on other cold bodies in the solar system, including the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt. They do not eject molten rock like the volcanoes on Earth, but rather liquid water, methane or ammonia.
Better images expected shortly
It is hoped that scientists will be provided a better view of Ceres within a week, when Dawn is supposed to enter the planet’s orbit. Astronomers are hoping that they might be able to understand the cause of the bright spots with better quality images.
“The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres,” said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.
The Dawn mission has been successful thus far, with the spacecraft already having sent back over 30,000 images of the second largest body in the main asteroid belt, which is known as Vesta. Dawn orbited the object in 2011 and 2012.