If you haven’t yet cast your vote on what you think is causing those bright lights on the dwarf planet Ceres, you may want to hold off a little longer. The latest photographs from the Dawn spacecraft orbiting Ceres show a mysterious haze covering one of the biggest bright spots and several smaller ones in close proximity. What could be the cause?
Christopher Russell, UCLA planetary scientist and Dawn’s principal investigator, announced the haze finding during a meeting at NASA’s Ames Research Center on July 21st. It’s only seen in the Occator crater which contains the famous Spot 5. While the haze covers half of the crater, it hasn’t been reported before because it’s not that easy to see, said Russell.
At noontime, if you look at a glancing angle, you can see what seems to be haze. It comes back in a regular pattern.
If you voted for the bright lights being reflective minerals or salts, this discovery may force you to reconsider. The spots may be ice and the haze could be water vapor created by sublimation – the process of converting from solid to gas while skipping the liquid phase. If this is true, Ceres would be the first body in the asteroid belt with such a haze. It would also confirm a previous but unconfirmed detection by the Herschel Space Observatory of water vapor on Ceres. Since the haze appears to be stationary, it may be a kind of atmosphere held in place by Ceres’ gravity and not a short-term vapor plume or gas jet.
Whatever the haze is, we have to wait until Dawn moves into its next orbit 900 miles above Ceres sometime next month for more information. Until then, here’s something to help ponder the meaning of the Ceres haze all in your brain … is it tomorrow or just the end of time?