A new color map of Ceres suggests the dwarf planet was once active and very much alive.
The revealing map was created with NASA's Dawn spacecraft, and displayed rich diversity across the surface of the planet.
"This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our color images," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Dawn mission became the first to ever reach a dwarf planet on March 6, previously it had studied the asteroid Vesta. Ceres is believed to be 25 percent water ice by mass, which is different from Vesta's bone-dry composition. More information about the planet's surface will be revealed when the Dawn spacecraft begins its first intensive science phase on April 23.
The available research from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) shows temperature variations across Ceres' surface. The images suggest different regions of the planet behave differently. The team has identified bright regions on Ceres; one pair of bright spots appear to be located in a region that is similar in temperature to its surroundings, while another bright feature lines up with a region that is cooler than its surroundings.
The origins of these bright spots remain a mystery, but as Dawn comes closer to the planet's surface the researchers hope to get a better idea of what could be causing them.
"The bright spots continue to fascinate the science team, but we will have to wait until we get closer and are able to resolve them before we can determine their source," Russell said.]