NASA's Dawn spacecraft has managed to capture some of the closest-ever pictures of the dwarf planet Ceres, a planet that has captivated and confused scientists around the world.

The confusion largely comes from the bright spots on the planet, and while Dawn was able to capture close-up images of the spots, scientists still have no idea what they actually are.

"Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape," said Dawn chief engineer and mission director Marc Rayman in a blog post. "Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery."

Possible explanations for the spots include that they are layers of ice reflecting sunlight. Others suggest that maybe the light is coming from an underground alien lair. The spots themselves reside in the Occator crater on the planet.

Because the spots are so bright compared with the rest of the planet, scientists took two photos and combined them. One of the photos was properly exposed for the spots, and the other for the surrounding area. Scientists have also released animations offering a virtual fly-by of the crater.

The images were taken from around 915 miles in altitude, and the resolution is three times as good as photos captured by Dawn in June. The craft itself has already completed two 11-day cycles of the planet, and recently began a third. It is set to map the planet Ceres six times over within the next few months.

Apart from the crater, Dawn has also highlighted a mountain that has bright streaks on its sides. The mountain appears to be around 4 miles high, giving it the same elevation as Alaska's Denali, formerly called Mount McKinley, which at 20,237 feet is the tallest point in North America. The mountain was renamed Denali in August, a move that "recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives," according to the White House.

Via: Daily Mail

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