New Images of Ceres Reveal More Mysterious Bright Spots

NASA's Dawn spacecraft took these two images of Ceres on Febrary 12, as the dwarf planet rotated. It’s the best look we've yet had of the dwarf planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

NASA recently published two new images of the dwarf planet Ceres, taken by the Dawn spacecraft as it hurtles toward this mass of rock and ice in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The pictures give us the clearest look yet of the small planetary body, which is about 590 miles wide, revealing craters and even more of the strange bright spots that were previously seen. These findings have baffled scientists, who didn't expect to find more white reflective areas like they are seeing here—and they still don't know what is causing them.

"As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission based at UCLA, in a statement. "We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled."

The hope is that the mystery will be cleared up when Dawn begins orbiting Ceres, which is expected to happen on March 6, NASA reports.

While these may not be the clearest photos you've ever seen, keep in mind that they were taken by a small unmanned vehicle traveling at high speed and that is still 52,000 miles away from Ceres, and that image had to be transmitted down to Earth from a great distance, well past Mars.