At this very moment, NASA’S Dawn Spacecraft is closing in on the dwarf planet Ceres, which ekes out its lonely existence in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, that ring slowly spinning beyond the inner planets’ orbits, separating us from the gas giants, the Oort cloud, and that vast emptiness beyond. However, Dawn’s approach of Ceres has already been so Chock Full of odd surprises that astronomers are unsure what to make of the dwarf planet.
DWARF PLANET, GIANT MYSTERIES
For starters, NASA aired a video last Thursday limning a bizarre and vibrant glowing and shining series of streaks flying across the slant of a massive pyramid-shaped mountain.
This big mountain is so gigantic that, measuring in at 20,000 feet, it easily overshadows Alaska’s Mount McKinley. Marc Rayman, director of the Dawn Mission, commented that an amalgam of scientists are still attempting to explain what these glowing streaks are, in addition to two more similarly glowing spots that are also inside the giant crater.
But astronomers hope that as Ceres grows larger in Dawn’s eyes we will get a feed of enhanced imagery of the bizarre glowing dwarf world. So far, NASA has collected the most recent images of Ceres’ surface into a Youtube video from the lowest altitudes yet achieved.
The dwarf planet Ceres predates most other phenomena in the solar system, estimated to have ceased all significant changes over 4 billion years ago. The dwarf planet is also the largest known object between Jupiter and Mars, and could potentially answer many questions about how the solar system formed.
WHY DOES THIS DWARF PLANET GLOW?
Many scientists have leveled to the media that the spectacular glowing visible on the dwarf planet’s surface is caused by ice. But Ceres’ albedo, which is the fraction of light a planet’s surface reflects back into space, is known to be a bit stochastic and unreliable. Whatever is really going on down there will have to wait until Dawn gets close enough to the dwarf planet to find out, which is slated for this Fall.
Chris Russell, the principal investigator at the University of California in LA, says that his team will work hard to gather the data needed to legitimize their theories concerning the dwarf planet’s mysterious glowing. Russell explained that their plan is to snap newer, high resolution images throughout the mission’s following orbital phase, in order to compare these glowing spots’ reflective salt properties.