Mostly Mute Monday: Ceres' Secrets Revealed! (Synopsis)

“Bringing an asteroid back to Earth? What’s that have to do with space exploration? If we were moving outward from there, and an asteroid is a good stopping point, then fine. But now it’s turned into a whole planetary defense exercise at the cost of our outward exploration.” -Buzz Aldrin

What causes those mysterious bright spots on the Solar System's largest asteroid? Although those bright, highly-reflective features at the bottom of Occator crater on Ceres were what first jumped out at us, subsequent imaging has revealed that these features are present in many other (but not all!) locations where the surface has been eroded away by impacts.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Measurements of Ceres' density reveals that it's not only much lighter than Earth, but also lighter than other large asteroids like Vesta, hinting at the possibility of a subsurface ocean. Could these features be ice, rock, geysers or salt deposits?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Come find out what we're doing to find out -- and see all the latest from Dawn and Ceres -- on today's Mostly Mute Monday!

More like this

“You are the salt of the earth. But remember that salt is useful when in association, but useless in isolation.” -Israelmore Ayivor When NASA's Dawn spacecraft began photographing Ceres, one big surprise emerged: the presence of a spectacularly and unusually bright spot at the bottom of Occator…
"Lots of science fiction deals with distant times and places. Intrepid prospectors in the Asteroid Belt. Interstellar epics. Galactic empires. Trips to the remote past or future." -Edward M. Lerner Of all the asteroids we've ever discovered, it's arguably the very first one, Ceres, that's got the…
"Although impact processes dominate the surface geology on Ceres, we have identified specific color variations on the surface indicating material alterations that are due to a complex interaction of the impact process and the subsurface composition." -Ralf Jaumann, Dawn scientist NASA's Dawn…
“One of the dreariest spots on life’s road is the point of conviction that nothing will ever again happen to you.” -Faith Baldwin Bet you thought you knew it all about the asteroid belt. These frozen, ice-and-rock worlds orbit farther out from Mars, closer in than Jupiter, and occasionally get…