Will NASA ever settle on one explanation for what the lights on Ceres really are? First it was caught by surprise as the Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet between Jupiter and Mars and spotted two bright lights on its surface. Next NASA admitted it had no idea what the two lights were. As Dawn got closer, it said the changing colors of the spots indicated they might be ice but it still wasn’t sure. It even set up an online poll asking us what we think the spots are. (“Other” is the leading choice as of this writing).
Now Dawn is in orbit around Ceres and NASA has finished analyzing a new set of images from the surface. So what does it say the two lights are now? A lot of little lights! Not only that, there’s lights all over the place on Ceres. So does NASA finally have a definitive statement on what they are?
Maybe, says Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission
Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice.
If your family was feuding about what the lights were, “Ice” was the number 2 answer in the NASA online poll.
If you were waiting for a count on how many lights there are on the surface of Ceres, the number 1 answer is “lots,” according to NASA.
The brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are revealed to be composed of many smaller spots.
Hey, Mr. Russell, what are NASA scientists doing to figure out what all those lights on Ceres are?
So we sit and wait for the higher-resolution data to appear, and we sharpen our pencils to make calculations on the rate of water vapor creation from the possible ice rinks on Ceres.
NASA thinks the lights on Ceres are ice rinks reflecting sunlight. The poll says a lot of people think it’s something other than ice, salt, volcanoes, rocks or geysers.
Is Ceres the Christmas tree of the solar system? A galactic hockey mecca? A parking lot for shiny alien space ships? What do you think?