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Take a Virtual Fly-By of Dwarf Planet Ceres

This should tide us over until we can find out what the heck that bright spot is.

by Kaleigh Rogers
Jun 8 2015, 3:55pm

If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a protoplanet-observing probe orbiting a dwarf planet (and who hasn't) you're in luck. NASA used the images collected so far by its Dawn spacecraft to create a virtual, 3D flyby of the dwarf planet Ceres. Oh, it and includes awesome, ominous space music.

Earlier this year, Dawn sidled up to Ceres—the largest object in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter—to get a better look at its surface. Last week, it swooped down into a lower orbit of 2,700 miles to capture closer images and create more detailed surface maps of the dwarf planet.

NASA researchers are hoping the closer inspection will reveal the truth about a mysterious bright spot on Ceres's surface. The images Dawn collected earlier this year showed the bright spot is the sun reflecting off of some kind of surface feature—such as ice or salt—but no one is quite yet sure what the feature. In fact, NASA has asked the public to vote on what they think the bright spot is in an an online poll: a volcano, a geyser, a rock, ice, a salt deposit, or "other." At this point, "other" is in the lead with 40 percent of the votes, though it's not clear what else the voters think the bright spot might be.

Screengrab: NASA

But while we wait for the results to reveal the truth about Ceres's most distinctive feature, we can enjoy the fruits of the Dawn mission so far—and indulge in a bit of our spaceflight daydreams, too.