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Ceres’ Strange Bright Spots are Almost Certainly Reflective Material

Image of Ceres from Dawn on May 16, 2015.

Image of Ceres from Dawn on May 16, 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Ever since it was first spotted by Hubble in 2003, the nature of the curious bright spot on Ceres has been an intriguing mystery for scientists. And even as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft approached the dwarf planet earlier this year the bright spot continued to mystify, gradually resolving into first two and then multiple, separate spots as Dawn got closer and closer. Now in its first mapping orbit of Ceres, Dawn’s view of the bright region is the best it’s ever been – and we’re still not quite sure what it is.

One thing scientists are fairly certain of, though, is that it’s an area of reflective material.

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Is That an Ice Cap? New Horizons Detects First Details on Pluto

A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015

A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015

Taken from a distance of about 69 to 64 million miles – just about the distance between the Sun and Venus – the images that make up this animation were captured by the LORRI imaging instrument aboard the New Horizons spacecraft and show its first detection of surface features on Pluto, including what may be the bright reflection of a polar ice cap!

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Icy Tendrils in Saturn’s E Ring Traced Back to Enceladus

Cassini images of Enceladus in the E ring (top left, upper center) and computer-generated models of the same scenes. Views from 2006 and 2013, respectively. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Cassini images of Enceladus in the E ring (top left, upper center) and computer-generated models of the same scenes. Views from 2006 and 2013, respectively. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

As the ice-encrusted moon Enceladus makes it way along its orbit around Saturn it gets repeatedly squeezed by the giant planet’s gravity, like a frozen stress ball with water-filled insides. This constant squeezing and relaxing generates friction heat in the moon’s crust, which could be responsible for keeping some of its internal water liquid and spraying it out into space from long canyons that cut across its southern pole. And sometimes more ice gets shot out than at other times, forming a trail of long tendrils that stretch into the “E” ring – a hazy, diffuse doughnut around Saturn made from Enceladus’ icy exhaust.

These tendrils had been observed by the Cassini spacecraft since 2006, but only now have they been positively confirmed to be the results of specific geysers on the 318-mile-wide moon.

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What Can Hubble See? Find Out in This Music Video


Get into a little “Hubble trouble” with this music video by NPR’s Adam Cole, aka Skunk Bear. Produced in honor of the 25th anniversary of the space telescope’s launch aboard Discovery STS-31 on April 24, 1990, the video is a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Trouble” and, in my opinion, surpasses it astronomically.

(See what I did there?)

Enjoy, and Happy 25th Anniversary Hubble! Also, check out a video of the STS-31 launch below:
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An Oblique View of Abedin Is One of MESSENGER’s Final Scenes

The possibly-volcanic crater Adedin on Mercury by MESSENGER. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The possibly-volcanic crater Adedin on Mercury by MESSENGER. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

The 72-mile (116-km) -wide crater Adedin is seen at an oblique angle in this mosaic made from images acquired by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft. The angle highlights the crater’s central peak complex which surrounds a shallow depression that could have a volcanic origin, as well as fine cracks in the floor of its basin and a slumped and terraced section of its far wall. The crater was named after the Bangladeshi painter Zainul Abedin (1914-1976).

And I suggest you enjoy it – it will be one of the last images we see from MESSENGER!

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Dawn Emerges from the Darkness to Send New Views of Ceres

Animated sequence of images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Animated sequence of images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft showing northern terrain on the sunlit side of Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

After a brief period of silence (due to its position on the dwarf planet’s night side) NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now sending back images from orbit around Ceres, revealing amazing details of its surface and giving another look at those mystery “bright spots” that have intrigued scientists since their discovery in 2003.

The animation above shows Ceres’ northern hemisphere as it rotated into the sunlight on April 14. The brightest bright spot can be seen in the crater at right – as Dawn was on approach earlier this year it resolved that spot into two distinct regions.

Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what those are, but soon Dawn will be getting an even better look.

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