Astronomers’ number one wish is to get the clearest picture possible of the space subjects they are working on. They would want to describe with accuracy certain planetary and star formations on the heavenly bodies they are studying. The Hubble telescope was thought to provide many solutions to the existing problems, but since it was put to commission 10 years ago, when it first captured the bright, enigmatic crystal spots on Ceres, astronomers have yet to figure out what they are. Now, the most defining photographs have been obtained and scientists are still at the dark.
The images were taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is currently on its way to its final destination: Ceres’ orbit. The final rendezvous will take place on the 6th of March. While underway, the spacecraft is still able to collect valuable information that scientists may use. Last February 12th, it took unprecedented images of Ceres- only 52,000 miles away from the dwarf planet. (The pictures were taken by Dawn spacecraft, which is now on its final leg, orbiting Ceres.
But to their dismay, even these crystal clear pictures of the largest heavenly body located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system is a great disappointment to the astronomers.
The Dawn spacecraft took pictures of utmost clarity, a 4.9 miles per pixel resolution. Just like the Hubble telescope before it, the images captured the same tiny, multi-cratered planet where the enigmatic spots can be seen strewn all over the surface. Ceres with an area of 590-mile-wide, still refuses to release its secret, since these spots have yet to be explained by the scientists. The distance has to be closer in order to take a more detailed picture of the frozen planet to study it properly.
“We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.” lead investigator in the Dawn project, Chris Russell.
“Whether the bright spots are comprised of ice, scientists can’t really say at the moment, although speculation is clearly to be expected. The Hubble Space Telescope has captured one of these white spots in its previous photographs, but the images were too blurry, so that Hubble couldn’t really discern between the spots it had identified,” Marc Rayman, Dawn lead engineer said.
“Dawn will eventually enter orbit and continue looking for information about this icy world by studying its surface as well as its mysterious water tufts which astronomers reported in 2014. When the spacecraft will come close enough to Ceres to properly offer scientists the detail-filled information they so dearly require, it may just be that we also get our answer and finally learn about the mystery-spots and their composition,” Marc Rayman added.
Ceres has always been considered a little bit unique in our solar system’s asteroid belt, since what are usually found in the area are mostly dusty, space rocks. It’s for this reason that some astronomers are convinced that Ceres came into being differently from the others within its vicinity. To understand more what’s going on, Dawn will compare data it has collected from another “giant”, compared to the sizes of the others, Vesta. Against what it will collect from Ceres.
Dawn has been analyzing the dry and mostly dusty planet for 14 months from 2011 to 2012.