Life on Ceres? Mysterious changes in the bright spots still baffle scientists

Life on Ceres? Mysterious changes in the bright spots still baffle scientists

Bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres continue to puzzle researchers. When recently a team of astronomers led by Paolo Molaro of the Trieste Astronomical Observatory in Italy, conducted observations of these features, they found out something unexpected. The scientists were surprised to detect that the spots brighten during the day and also show other variations. This variability still remains a mystery.

The bright features have been discovered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft which is orbiting this dwarf planet, constantly delivering substantial information about it. These spots reflect far more light than their much darker surroundings. The composition of these features is discussed as the scientists debate if they are made of water ice, of evaporated salts, or something else.

Molaro and his colleagues studied the spots on Ceres in July and August 2015, using the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), as was reported by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) earlier this year. This instrument, mounted on ESO's 3.6m telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile, enables measurements of radial velocities with the highest accuracy currently available. 

By utilizing HARPS, the researchers found out unexpected changes in the mysterious bright spots. However, at the beginning they thought that it was an instrumental problem. But after double checking, they had to conclude that the radial velocity anomalies were likely real. Then the team noticed that they were connected to periods of time when the bright spots in the Occator crater were visible from the Earth. So the scientists made an association between them.

However, these detected variations still continue to perplex the astronomers as they haven't found a plausible explanation for their occurrence.

"We know nothing about these changes, really. And this increases the mystery of these spots," Molaro told Astrowatch.net.

One of the proposed hypotheses is that the observed changes could be triggered by the presence of volatile substances that evaporate due to solar radiation. When the spots are on the side illuminated by the sun they form plumes that reflect sunlight very effectively. The scientists suggest that these plumes then evaporate quickly, lose reflectivity and produce the observed changes.

"It is already well known that a lot of water hides beneath the surface of Ceres, so or clathrates hydrates are the most natural hypotheses. But a proper answer will be hopefully provided by scientists working in the Dawn team in the coming months," Molaro said.

He noted that the indication of variability needs to be confirmed by direct imaging of Occator's bright spot at the highest available spatial resolution.

"This kind of measurements are underway. I would say that the detection of a variability improves our ignorance rather than our understanding of this planetary body," Molaro revealed.

The team is currently applying for further observations by the end of this year to repeat in a more systematical way what they have done in their pilot project. An important aspect of their work is to have shown a new way to study Ceres from ground, which could turn out to be useful even after the end of the Dawn mission. However by now, they are eager to see the results from the Dawn spacecraft in the next months.

If the team's theory is confirmed, Ceres would seem to be internally active. While this is known to be rich in water, it is unclear whether this is related to the bright spots. It is also still debated if Ceres due to its vast reservoir of water, could be a suitable place to host microbial life.

"Life as we know it on Earth needs liquid water, biogenic elements and a stable source of energy. Is Ceres a good place to have these things simultaneously and for a substantial amount of time, like billions of years? Nobody knows at the moment," Molaro concluded.


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Astronomers discover unexpected changes of bright spots on Ceres

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May 27, 2016
Ceres is an alien outpost or maybe a mining colony. The federal government KNOWs this and is covering it up. Maybe the coverup us per agreement with visitors from off planet. If so, we the people need to know of it.. "Ice" (LOL) and "salts"(Totally ROTFL) are so palpably stupid that only a government or monopoly or both with the power to kill you if they so choose would be so sloppy and disrespectful of other's intelligence as our government is. Like the "planet Veeenus" 'explanations of UFO's sufficed in the past. We are a bit more independently equipped now and have the internet that we did not have in paranoid McCarthyite 1947. Other nations are now involved that are similarly advanced as us. These may have reasons to tell the truth or blackmail the secret keepers for money or territory. Trotskiy said 3 people can keep a secret if 2 of them are dead. Far more are in the know today and many do not like us. SOMEONE will spill the beans.

May 27, 2016
Ceres is an alien outpost or maybe a mining colony. The federal government KNOWs this and is covering it up. Maybe the coverup us per agreement with visitors from off planet. If so, we the people need to know of it.. "Ice" (LOL) and "salts"(Totally ROTFL) are so palpably stupid that only a government or monopoly or both with the power to kill you if they so choose would be so sloppy and disrespectful of other's intelligence as our government is.
- Osiris1

You are partially correct. You might have made your statement as a 'joke' and presented it as such, but you are correct in that Ceres is an 'alien' outpost, but it is not a mining colony in the true sense. There is SOME mining, but only for the rarest element required by the ETs. I'm uncertain as to what that is. I could investigate, but I don't wish to disturb the ETs. The outpost is similar to a "relay system" for signals/communication beams that we have detected are coming from your world.
(cont'd)

May 27, 2016
"If so, we the people need to know of it.." - Osiris1

No, the vast majority of humans would NOT need to know of it. With the exception of a few, 'they' would become mentally disturbed with such knowledge (even if they considered it "cool"), and there are enough mentally disturbed people in your world without adding more.

"...only a government or monopoly or both with the power to kill you if they so choose would be so sloppy and..."

Scientists are carefully monitored by governments to ensure that they don't "spill the beans" as you say. Certain areas of government are benefitting from knowledge given to their scientists by ETs, while taxed 'hush money' is used by government to continue research and pay for required equipment & silence. There is a race by gov to get to Mars and the other planets first, to establish rule over those bodies that will not benefit ALL of humanity. Top dog is the order to which they aspire and the average citizenry is unaware of what is happening.

May 27, 2016
"We are a bit more independently equipped now and have the internet that we did not have in paranoid McCarthyite 1947." - Osiris1

Your instruments are less than first generation level and humans have yet to engineer much more than what you proudly regard as "cutting edge" technology. Your scientists reject Thought beams as a means of communication and its specialized methodology, which is why it will take a million years or more for human technology to catch up to ET. Your rejection of anything of a spiritual nature due to your erroneous and stupid belief that, "if you can't see it or detect it in some way, then it cannot possibly exist" - and yet you firmly believe in those things that you will never see, i.e., primordial Black Holes, quarks, muons and electrons, because you believe that your 'instruments' and 'models' and detection methods are infallible.
We laugh at humans, and yet are charged with their care and protection - which humans freely and stupidly dismiss.

May 27, 2016
Awiens.

May 27, 2016
Awiens.


ja wohl

May 28, 2016
Re the spots vs water, Dawn results indicate Ceres is more coet like (dirty iceball) than ice moon like (possible water volumes).

Re the conspiracy ideation, worthless as always. Evidence, or it likely didn't happen.

May 28, 2016
Awiens are alien creatures living in cold celestial bodies looking in aw with their big bright eyes toward the inner plants during daytime. ;-)

May 29, 2016
"Re the conspiracy ideation, worthless as always. Evidence, or it likely didn't happen."

I think there is a conspiracy to debunk conspiracy theories.

May 29, 2016
How old is the relay of this information? How long does it take NASA to evaluate a conclusion before it releases the information to the press? It seems that NASA would already have this answer since it has been an ongoing dilemma for almost a year. If it was that big a mystery, it seems like NASA technology could nip it in the bud fairly quickly. Is this mystery just a good story filling a void in the news world?

May 30, 2016
The only way you, Otto S., would actually 'have' that knowledge (play devil's advocate) would be if YOU were an 'alien'. Looks like you and I are the only intelligent life commenting on this article. However the 'million years' comment IS in left field ( if you are an alien you might not know our national slang unless you are computer assisted. Think we already have a handle on FTL commo with quantum entanglement, 'ceptin that we would need to take the "part B" to the place we would need commo with using "part A". So if you are an alien, mind telling us some easy way to do interstellar distances in real time so that trade would be possible. Think way to make very large energy density power generators probably using anti-force analog to recently discovered ultra-short force. Unless of course your species is not interested in trade....or more likely we "ain't got' nuthin' you would ever want!". Of course if you are an observer, u have own motives... soldiers...lab rats...

May 30, 2016
I'm sorry, we went from not knowing what's causing a feature on the surface of Ceres to it possibly supporting life? Call me cynical, but I don't see the connection. If there's one thing we know for absolutely certain about the universe, it's that we actually have very little idea about almost any of it. Jumping from an unknown effect which causes brightening of the spot on Ceres to the possibility of lifeforms on a dwarf planet is the same kind of irresponsible thought patterns which turn an unusual light in the sky into an alien visitation. It's ludicrous and in no way borne out or even suggested by the known facts.

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