Scientists teasing out primordial secrets on Ceres, once an ocean world

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THE WOODLANDS, Texas—Ceres is a cold, dead world today. But it wasn't always so, and as researchers delve deeper into images and data collected by the Dawn spacecraft, they continue to find intriguing hints about a world that likely had a large, subsurface ocean during the early days of the solar system. They also have found a number of features on the surface of Ceres they cannot yet explain, deepening the mystery of the dwarf planet’s evolution. The largest object in the asteroid belt, measuring some 950km across, Ceres is roughly the size of Texas. So perhaps it's fitting that scientists gave their most detailed briefing yet about the planet in a darkened conference room in The Woodlands, just north of Houston, at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on Tuesday. Here the mysterious bright spots of Occator crater and other parts of the small world shone brightly. These parts also intrigued. As the Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres in 2015, it revealed a large bright spot in Occator crater, but as the spacecraft has flown down to within 400km of the world’s surface and produced a global map at a resolution of 35 meters per pixel, scientists have found many bright spots in the crater likely due to salt deposits. Still, the brightest one at the center remains most interesting. This bright area measures about 10km across, explained Carol Raymond, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist who is the Dawn mission’s deputy principal investigator. It is brighter than the other spots in the Occator crater by a factor of two. In the center of the spot, a multi-hued dome rises above a pit area, with concentric fractures radiating away from the dome to suggest recent activity. “It appears material has come up from below and been placed in the central pit,” she said. “By what process did the material come to the surface?” Read More: Ars Technica

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