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Bizarre bright spot on Ceres has shiny companion

What the? The bright spot on Ceres, the subject of much speculation, apparently has a smaller "companion" spot. Both glow brightly from inside a good-sized crater on the dwarf planet. The larger looks like a central peak or spot on a...

Ceres bright tight
This image was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 km). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin. See below for the wide view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

What the? The bright spot on Ceres, the subject of much speculation, apparently has a smaller "companion" spot. Both glow brightly from inside a good-sized crater on the dwarf planet. The larger looks like a central peak or spot on a peak.

Ceres dual bright spots
Certainly a most curious feature. Some scientists think the spots might be related to volcanic activity on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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Fascinating to look at, but the Dawn space probe is still too far away to give us the resolution we need to answer our questions. But watch out. The Internet may soon hum with talk of aliens, mirrors and lasers. I mean, come on, it just looks weird. The contrast between the rest of the asteroid and the spots is remarkable.

Ceres hi res Feb19 A_S
This and the photo below were taken on Feb. 19, 2015 and processed to enhance clarity. Notice the very large but shallow crater below center. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The pseudoscience-makers better hurry though. Dawn is fewer than 29,000 miles (46,000 km) away and closing fast. In little more than a week on March 6, the probe will be captured by Ceres gravity and begin a slow dance lasting some 6 weeks settling into a comfortable polar orbit around this intriguing world. That's when even clearer pictures of the phantom lights will stream their way to Earth. They're expected to have 100x the resolution of the images seen here.

Ceres hi res Feb19S
A different hemisphere of Ceres photographed on Feb. 19. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, thinks it's possible that the spots may point to a volcano-like origin. That's just an educated guess at this point. Hang on to your hats - I suspect Ceres will be full of surprises.

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