Before New Horizons completed its trip to Pluto, space geeks around the world were just as fascinated with another one of our solar system's icy orbs: Ceres. Now that New Horizons is well on its way to the outer edges of the Solar System — and we're stuck waiting to see the images it took — some of the spotlight is back on Ceres. And while much has already been learned about this other dwarf planet, one question still remains — what the hell are those bright spots?
This new image taken by the Dawn spacecraft doesn't answer that outright, but it does give us the most detailed look at the spots yet, which are located in what NASA scientists have named the Occator crater. What we do know is that they are undoubtably and remarkably bright. The difference in brightness between the spots and the rest of Ceres is so great that this new glimpse of Ceres is actually made from two images: one specifically exposed capture the detail you see in the bright spots, and one exposed for the surface detail of the crater around those spots.
NASA scientists have been analyzing Ceres' spots all summer as the spacecraft moved closer and closer to the surface, and Dawn will map all of Ceres six times in the next two months. All that data will provide detailed, three-dimensional views of Ceres and all its weird features. While there's still no definite answer about the spots, the team has said that they don't seem to be ice. Other guesses range from reasonable (salt deposits) to exciting-but-unlikely (volcanoes). We won't know for sure until Dawn gets even closer. Until then, just like the scientists, we wait.