New images reveal Ceres’ pyramid-shaped mountain is glowing

NASA on Thursday released a new video showing that the massive, pyramid-shaped mountain found on the dwarf planet Ceres has unusual bright streaks running down its sides, similar to the unusual bright spots on its surface that have fascinated scientists for months.

According to CNET and io9, the mountain is taller than the 20,000-foot Mt. McKinley in Alaska, is roughly conical in shape and has both a light and a dark side. The one end is coated in unusual, newly-spotted bright streaks, while the opposite face is described as dark and dull.

In addition, the mountain is not the central peak of a crater or a part of a mountain range. Rather, it stands alone, and while that isn’t unprecedented, it has piqued the interest of the scientists who are analyzing the data being gathered by the US space agency’s Dawn spacecraft.

Mountain, bright spots still defying explanation

The newest images of the pyramid-shaped mountain, which were taken on June 25 and released by NASA last week, were captured from an altitude of 2,700 miles above Ceres and reveal that the peak is an estimated four miles tall, making it the highest point on the dwarf planet.

“This mountain is among the tallest features we’ve seen on Ceres to date,” Dawn science team member Paul Schenk, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, said last week in a statement. “It’s unusual that it’s not associated with a crater. Why is it sitting in the middle of nowhere? We don’t know yet, but we may find out with closer observations.”

In addition, the latest data returned by Dawn has not found evidence consistent with ice in the bright spots located in Ceres’ Occator crater. The probe examined how the spots reflected light at different wavelengths, and found that the amount of light reflected (the albedo) is not as high as predictions for concentrations of ice on the surface of the dwarf planet.

“The science team is continuing to evaluate the data and discuss theories about these bright spots at Occator,” said Chris Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator at UCLA. “We are now comparing the spots with the reflective properties of salt, but we are still puzzled by their source. We look forward to new, higher-resolution data from the mission’s next orbital phase.”


Feature Image: YouTube/NASA/JPL