The mysterious Ceres bright spots that glowed like alien headlines have a reasonable explanation. Scientists have unraveled the mystery of the bright spots seen on the dwarf planet, according to ABC News.
Researchers say the bright spots are the result of mineral salts, citing data captured by NASA’s Dawn mission to study the dwarf planet. While the findings will likely dampen speculation, they also portray Ceres as a complex planet — one that may be holding a reserve of ice.
Dispelling theorists’ notions of an alien city tucked away in our solar system, researchers say in a study published by the journal Nature, “These unusual areas are consistent with hydrated magnesium sulfates mixed with dark background material, although other compositions are possible.”
The Ceres bright spots, the largest object in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, caused a stir in February, after the Dawn spacecraft sent home an image that showed two very bright spots inside a large crater on Ceres, where the surface is otherwise so dark it’s often compared to fresh asphalt.
The salt is called hexahydrite, NASA says, noting “A different type of magnesium sulfate is familiar on Earth as Epsom salt.”
A thin haze in the crater also suggests frozen water could be near the surface, according to the study, which was led by Andreas Nathues of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany.
The brightest spot is seen in the Occator Crater, a large area that’s featured in a new video released by NASA, showing Ceres’ rotation. The video uses “false color” to emphasize differences in the composition of Ceres’ surface, as seen from an orbit altitude of about 2,700 miles.
The bright spots have been a source of both mystery and wide-ranging theories online, where some observers noted that the earliest images seemed to show the spots maintaining their brightness from many viewing angles. To some, that suggested the light’s source is internal, rather than reflected.
Or as the top commenter on a previous Two-Way post wrote, “I’m not saying it’s aliens. But it’s aliens.”
When NASA asked the public to guess what’s creating the brightness in an online survey, both salt deposits and ice got more than 10 percent of the vote — but both of them were dwarfed by the somewhat ominous choice “Other,” which attracted nearly 40 percent of the votes.
Speculation about the bright spots’ significance also spiked when NASA announced it had spotted a “pyramid-shaped peak towering over a relatively flat landscape.”
The new study reveals that the Ceres bright spots make it harder for people to imagine a real-life Death Star or way station for an advanced race. It’s only material that landed on the planet from tumbling objects in outer space.