A NASA spacecraft that’s nearing dwarf planet Ceres has returned new images showing the mysterious lights that have scientists scratching their heads.
The images, released in the form of a GIF on the website for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, show at least two strange lights shining brightly as Ceres rotates. They were taken from about 25,000 miles away by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on its approach to orbit around Ceres. The origin of the lights is unclear at this time, NASA officials said.
On March 6, Dawn will make history as the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it finally enters orbit around Ceres.
“Dawn is about to make history,” said Robert Mase, project manager for the mission, in a statement released alongside the images on Monday. “Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us.”
The dwarf planet was first discovered by Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801. Since then, it has been classified as a planet, then an astroid, and finally in 2006 was named a “dwarf planet” alongside Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris.
Scientists hope the Dawn mission will help shine light on the origin of the Solar System.
“Both Vesta,” an asteroid, “and Ceres were on their way to becoming planets, but their development was interrupted by the gravity of Jupiter,” said Carol Raymond, deputy project scientist at JPL, in the statement. “These two bodies are like fossils from the dawn of the Solar System, and they shed light on its origins.”
Source: By Brian Ries