But, WHAT ARE THE BRIGHT SPOTS ON CERES? Ever since they were detected earlier this year, scientists (and, laymen) have been speculating over their possible origin. The most recent fly-by of Dawn might provide more answers; different groups of researchers have come up with possible explanations of their own.
The brightest of them all
The brightest patch is located in the 90-kilometer-wide Occator crater. The latter is estimated to be only 78 million years old, and the researchers believe it might actually be among the youngest entities on Ceres. A team from Germany, led by Andreas Nathues from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, is currently working on a bizarre haze found near its base.
Possible cause of the bright spots
The bright spots might be the result of icy salt containing ammonia-rich clay deposits, as suggested by a group of researchers, with Maria Cristina De Sanctis from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics at their head. Find the paper here. They argue that ammonia ice might exist on the surface of Ceres in a stable form, bound to other minerals chemically.
Furthermore, ammoniated compounds on Ceres could be indicating that Ceres did not come from the main asteroid belt situated between Mars and Jupiter (its current position). Rather, its origin might be traced back to the outer Solar System. Apart from this possible explanation, NASA also suggested that Ceres formed near its current location, and took in materials that came from the outer solar system.
Another finding says that Ceres seems to be housing deposits of pale white magnesium sulphate known as hexahydrite which is similar to Epsom salt. It is only very rare on our own planet.
The salt spots on Ceres would have formed following the sublimation of below-surface water ice that would have become exposed at an asteroid impact, according to the researchers publishing in Nature.