NASA Images Reveal New Details About Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots

Click to expand this picture of the Occator Crater...

NASA's Dawn satellite has sent back the most detailed images yet of the large, bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres. Orbiting at just 385 km above the surface, pictures reveal a mini-world of complex land formations inside the region known as Occator Crater.

The mysteries behind this have been shown at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, revealing a shiny dome at the centre of a smooth pit. Lots of cracks and lines run across the dome, and off of this information together suggests recent geological activity. What that activity is exactly, researchers won't know until they can get more data.

"Before Dawn began its intensive observations of Ceres last year, Occator Crater looked to be one large bright area," Jaumann commented in a press release. "Now, with the latest close views, we can see complex features that provide new mysteries to investigate."

This crater is just one of a hundred bizarre bright spots on Ceres that have left researchers puzzled. The team think this is a salty substance called hexahydrite, which can appear shiny according to a recent Nature study. So how did this substance come to fruition? Experts say it's possible asteroids hitting the planet could have revealed the salty water-ice under the surface, which turned to gas when exposed to the sun and leaving the hexahydrite behind.

But that's not all. NASA have also collected other detailed images, a colour map of Ceres highlighting the diverse materials on the surface, and data from Dawn's instruments showing the chemicals in the planet's atmosphere. All of this points towards ancient water-ice lurking underneath the surface of Ceres' poles, meaning the scientists could be right about the bright spots!

Does that mean colonisation? Absolutely not in our lifetimes, but it's going to be fascinating to see what truths are revealed over the next few years of research.