Spacecraft finds bright craters on Ceres

Story highlights

  • New NASA images of the dwarf planet Ceres show bright craters
  • Scientists have discovered mysterious minerals in one of the craters

(CNN)Ceres, the dwarf planet that lies between Jupiter and Mars, has some shiny features.

NASA's Dawn space probe captured new images of bright craters on the dwarf planet, according to a report published Tuesday.
The images were taken 240 miles from Ceres, the closet the spacecraft has come to the celestial body. At its lowest altitude yet, the probe has captured photos of the dwarf planet's strange bright spots.
The new images are providing scientists with some answers about Ceres' geographical features, and offering new clues about what lies on its surface.
One of these marvels is the Haulani Crater, which stretches 21 miles and shows evidence of landslides around its rims.
The new images show rays of bluish material being ejected from the Ceres' surface. This blue hue has been associated with craters much younger than previously thought. However, the coloring is not something we can see with our own eyes. Rather, the blue comes from the instruments the spacecraft uses to spy wavelengths of light beyond what the human eye can detect.
Still, scientists are intrigued by the material giving rise to the color, and are working to find out what that material is comprised of, according to NASA.
"Haulani perfectly displays the properties we would expect from a fresh impact into the surface of Ceres. The crater floor is largely free of impacts, and it contrasts sharply in color from older parts of the surface," said Martin Hoffmann, co-investigator on the Dawn mission.
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These craters have the shape of straight lines, which is unique because on Earth and other planets craters are almost always circular. Scientists suspect that preexisting stress patterns and faults lie underneath these craters, giving them their linear shape.
The second brightest thing on Ceres is the 6-mile wide Oxo Crater.
"Little Oxo may be poised to make a big contribution to understanding the upper crust of Ceres," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the mission.
Scientists are interested in this crater because of the minerals found on its floor, which are different from elsewhere in the world. This raises new questions for scientists about the nature and origins of the minerals.
Dawn was launched by NASA in 2007 to study protoplanets, celestial bodies that are roughly the size of our moon, in the asteroid belt. Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, and is one of three targets the spacecraft is observing on its mission.