PASADENA, Calif., Sept. 9 (UPI) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft recently beamed back the closest images yet of the mysterious bright spot glowing from the bottom of Ceres' Occator crater.
Dawn is currently orbiting the dwarf planet at an altitude of 915 miles, capturing images at a resolution of 450 feet per pixel -- three times the resolution captured during the craft's June orbit.
Dawn is currently in the middle of its third mapping cycle, which began on September 9 and will last 11 days. Each cycle consists of 14 orbits, during which Dawn and its imaging instruments map the entirety of Ceres' surface. Over the next two months, Dawn will map Ceres six more times, each time from a slightly different angle.
The latest image of the bright spot reveals the glow not as a bright blur, as early images did, but an intricate landscape of reflection. The image is actually a composite of two images -- one using an exposure appropriate for the bright spot, and another using an exposure matched to the surrounding crater.
However impressive the new photographic details are, they don't move scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory any closer to confirming what Ceres' bright spot actually is.
"Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful, gleaming landscape," Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director at JPL, said in a press release. "Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery."