A false colour image of Ceres Occator crater and its bright spots
A false colour image of Ceres Occator crater and its bright spots

It’s been causing speculation since space probe Dawn began closing in on micro-planet Ceres early this year, but those dazzling bright spots on its surface now seem to be made of salt or ammonia rich clay.

NASA overnight announced that Dawn had reached its lowest mapping orbit over what is the largest object in the main asteroid belt and published a summary of research papers based on early analysis of the data from its cameras and other instruments.

There is also discussion within NASA as to how to end the Dawn mission (which orbited and mapped the giant asteroid Vesta before moving on to Ceres) as it runs low on its fuel reserves for its ion propulsion engine.

One proposal is that before the probe begins to tumble out of control it will be drifted very close to the floor of the Occator crater where the largest concentration of bright spots are found for one last high resolution look at them before making its own small crater on Ceres’ surface.

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