NASA released a new video that offers viewers a glimpse of the diverse and dramatic surface of the dwarf planet Ceres.
The new Ceres video tour, which was uploaded on YouTube Wednesday, was compiled from images that were gathered by the Dawn spacecraft that currently orbits the alien world from a height of around 1,200 miles, the closest the probe has gotten to Ceres.
Scientists want to learn more about Ceres because it is a relic of the early solar system and it has not changed much over the last four billion years. They hope that by studying this alien world, the largest object found in the main asteroid belt between planets Jupiter and Mars, it would unveil what occurred during the early stages of the solar system including how planets formed and evolved.
Among the things that have been intriguing scientists are the mysterious glowing white spots found on the surface of Ceres. Dawn captured the bright spots at the bottom of the 2-mile-deep Occator crater.
Scientists have been interested on the white spots since they were found and a popular theory is that the glowing spots are made of some kind of ice or water.
After examining the way that the bright spots on Occator reflect light at different wavelengths though, scientists have not found evidence that would support the theory of it being composed of ice. The spots' albedo, which measures the amount of light reflected, is not high enough for concentrations of ice.
Dawn's principal investigator Chris Russell, from the University of California, Los Angeles said that they will continue to look at the data and discuss theories about the mysterious bright spots at Occator.
"We are now comparing the spots with the reflective properties of salt, but we are still puzzled by their source. We look forward to new, higher-resolution data from the mission's next orbital phase," Russell said.
The probe also captured the 4-mile high mountain that scientists called "The Pyramid." Scientists compared the elevation of this feature to Mount McKinley in Alaska, North America's highest point.
Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute said that the mountain is one of the tallest features that they have so far seen on the surface of Ceres.
With Dawn reaching Ceres, scientists were able to gather new information about the extraterrestrial world, some of which have changed earlier assumptions such as the average diameter of the dwarf planet. It was earlier estimated that Ceres' diameter was 590 miles but data from Dawn revealed it to be 584 miles.