Image: Ceres
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA
A picture of Ceres from the Dawn spacecraft craters with central peaks on the surface. The pictures will become clearer as Dawn comes closer over the next month.


Excerpt from

NASA’ Dawn spacecraft is snapping increasingly detailed pictures of the dwarf planet Ceres as it zooms in for next month’ rendezvous, but so far the images have only heightened the mystery surrounding bright spots on the surface. 
The pictures released Thursday show that Ceres — the largest asteroid as well as the closest and smallest known dwarf planet — is pockmarked by craters. The craters are to be expected: The 590-mile-wide (950-kilometer-wide) mini-world has been pummeled for billions of by other objects in the asteroid belt. But the white spots? They’re a real puzzle. 
spot in particular has shown up prominently in pictures from the and from Dawn, which was launched back in 2007 to Ceres and its sister asteroid Vesta. The latest pictures, taken on Wednesday from a distance of about 90,000 miles (145,000 kilometers), appear to show still more bright blips on Ceres. Are they patches of light material or ice at the of craters? Or frost on the top of prominences?
“We are at a phase in the mission where the curtain is slowly being pulled back on the nature of the surface,” UCLA planetary scientist Chris Russell, the principal investigator for the $466 million mission, NBC News in an email. “But the surface is different from that of other planets, and at this stage the increasing resolution presents more mysteries rather than answers them.” 
Russell said the team was particularly interested in the big bright spot and the region surrounding it. 
“Naively we expect a bright region to be fresh and a dark region to be old. So the surface of Ceres seems to have a number of circular features of varying freshness on a predominantly dark, presumably old surface,” Russell wrote. “The one type of feature that clearly came into view this time were examples of central peak craters with overall similarity to lunar craters.” 
The mysteries will be cleared up by the time Dawn enters orbit around Ceres in March. OR WILL THEY?

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