Dawn Space Probe Intensifies the Mystery behind Ceres even more as it Enters its Orbit

Had Giuseppe Piazzi been alive today, he might also be mystified by the results of the observation of the space probe Dawn on the celestial body he discovered some 214 years ago.

Initially thought of as a comet by Piazzi, then as a planet and was downgraded to an asteroid and was lately dubbed as a “dwarf planet”; Ceres’ classification and behavior have puzzled astronomers, astrophysicists and scientists alike since its discovery in 1801.

When the Dawn space probe entered Cererian orbit last March 6, 2015 it has gathered new observations of the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System. These observations have intensified the mystery behind Ceres.  An earlier set of data gathered by the space probe revealed that it was able to have a partial view at the two bright spots on Ceres’ surface which are believed to be telltales of its chemical and physical identification. Federico Tosi, who works on Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIR), explained that the two bright spots seemed to behave distinctly different; Spot 1 is colder than its immediate surrounding while Spot 5 is not. In thermal images, Spot 1 appears to be a dark spot on a reddish ball indicating that it was cooler than the rest of the surface. What appears to be a bolt from the blue is that Spot 5 simply disappeared on the thermal image. Speculations on the nature of the spots vary from ice to “hydrated minerals”. Tosi disclosed that ice would be difficult to explain as Ceres inhabits a zone not quite distant enough from the Sun to allow “stable ice” on the surface.

Adding up to the mystery behind Ceres is that the latter appears and behaves nothing like its near neighbor Vesta. Vesta is bright and reflects much of the sun’s light. Fewer large craters were found on Ceres, Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, confirmed that they were missing a number of large craters in Ceres. Martin Hoffman from Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany bears out that the pockmarks on Ceres’ surface suggest that it had a “violent collisional history”.

Briefly, the theory that Ceres is an “embryo” planet which remained undeveloped from the birth of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago still remains in its indeterminate state.


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