Images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft give a closest-yet look at two mysterious shining splotches on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres — and have led scientists to believe that they’re actually made up of many smaller spots of reflective material.
“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement.
It is still not exactly clear what the brilliant blots are made of, NASA said.
The images, taken on May 3 and 4 from 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers) away, give the closest view yet that researchers have had from the Dawn probe, which is in the midst of a $437 million mission around Ceres. The probe has completed an initial orbit that took 15 days and led to the collection of new scientific data. It is now easing into a lower orbit, which it is scheduled to reach in early June, NASA said on Monday.