TECH

Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots Captured In Stunningly Detailed Image

23/03/2016 11:47 GMT
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

What you're looking at is the single best image we have yet of the mysterious bright spots that have been dotted all over Ceres.

It's actually a collection of images stitched together but it does include the closest view we have yet, taken at a distance of just 240 miles by NASA's Dawn satellite.

It could finally hold the key to explaining what those mysterious bright spots actually are.

NASA

A study, published in Nature, suggests that salts are the most probable reason for the puzzling spots.

The current theory is that they are in fact deposits of epsom salts, left there after trapped water was exposed to the vacuum of space.

"Of particular interest is a bright pit on the floor of crater Occator that exhibits probable sublimation of water ice, producing haze clouds inside the crater..." the paper stated.

NASA

"Slow-moving condensed-ice or dust particles may explain this haze. We conclude that Ceres must have accreted material from beyond the ‘snow line’, which is the distance from the Sun at which water molecules condense."

When the Dawn spacecraft began sending images of Ceres -- largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter -- the lead team said the images were a surprise.

Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team explained: "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. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us."

It's believed that that Ceres has a considerable amount of trapped water ice underneath the surface.