In images released by NASA on Monday, bright spots on the surface of Ceres stand out. NASA says these lighted areas are a mystery until we get closer to the dwarf planet.
Ceres is only becoming more interesting the closer NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets to it. On Monday, NASA released images taken by Dawn that show mysterious bright spots on the dwarf planet's surface - and no one knows what they are.
The Dawn craft was launched in September of 2007. After completing a survey mission of Vesta, it entered Ceres' orbit in March 2015.
Check out the spots for yourself in the gallery below, and see if you can figure it out:
Ceres has an important place in the history of astronomy. It was the first asteroid known to astronomers, and remains not only the largest object in the asteroid belt, but the biggest of the minor planets within the orbit of Neptune. For some time after its discovery in the early 1800s, it was considered a planet - years before Neptune or Pluto were even twinkles in a telescope's lens.
NASA has put together a video made with composite images of Ceres:
The bright spots on Ceres are going to remain a mystery for a little while longer. NASA and JPL hope Dawn will enter High-Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) in August of 2015, and Low-Altitude Mapping Orbit (LAMO) in October. By then, close-up shots should shed some light on the phenomenon that has perplexed scientists and star-gazers.
Before we know for sure, however, NASA is encouraging its amateur astronomer fans to vote on what they think the spots really are. Make your choice here and discuss in our forums! My bet is "giant magnifying lens pointed directly at us," but NASA keeps rejecting my vote.