The Excitement is Building Up as Dawn Arrives in Ceres this March

Here we go again, thinking of aliens again just because the smart guys at NASA can’t make heads or tails of a “strange and flickering white blotch” in a faraway planet. To be fair with the NASA people, they haven’t even given an iota of hint, that there is life in the planet in question.

The confusion arose when several parts of Ceres were photographed by the Dawn spacecraft last Jan. 13 and were received by NASA.

Let us take several steps backward. In 2007, a spacecraft aptly named Dawn, was sent on its way to the asteroid belt to study the two largest asteroids Vesta and Ceres. The spacecraft took pictures showing white blotch in the mini-planet Ceres as it rapidly descended towards it.

There were no explanations from the people behind the Dawn project what the  enigmatic blotch or dot represents. The Dawn pictures were released to the public last Jan.13. Dawn mission director Marc Rayman confirmed the presence of light in Ceres but they don’t have the faintest idea what they were.

Pictures of dark and light areas on the planet’s surface appeared when photographed by Dawn’s telescopic cameras. They suggested the presence of craters but these too like the light, remained unresolved.

In the pictures of Ceres taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004, they showed the same white spot. No plausible explanations were given by scientists as yet, but they believe, for the moment at least, that those are icy pools of water found at the bottom parts of the craters which are adequately shiny to reflect sunlight.

The interest of scientists to study Ceres lies in the belief that the planet is something extraordinary and there’s nothing like it in our solar system. It’s almost as big as the Texas state with an average diameter of 590 miles. It is the largest among the other asteroids found in the belt. Ceres is classified either as a planet or as an asteroid.

It is the smallest existing planet in our solar system. Scientists suspects that there exists huge ice deposits in it and there’s an ocean that remained hidden somewhere along its tiny surface.

More will be known about the planet Ceres and those questions answered when Dawn enters its orbit this coming March. It has already visited Vesta in the summer of 2011 staying there for some maintenance repair for a year. Vesta is second only to Ceres in size.

“The team is very excited to examine the surface of Ceres in never-before-seen detail,” said Dawn mission principal investigator Chris Russell. “We look forward to the surprises this mysterious world may bring.”

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