Pyramid spotted on Ceres: Mysterious lone mountain discovered towering over the surface of the dwarf
'Pyramid' spotted on Ceres: Mysterious lone mountain discovered towering over the surface of the dwarf planet
Nasa scientists in California revealed images from the Dawn spacecraft
One shows a mountain the size of Mont Blanc in a relatively flat area
The formation and origin of the mountain remains a mystery
And images of the bizarre bright spots on the surface were also shown.
The latest images of Ceres taken by the Dawn spacecraft have captured a fascinating pyramid-shaped mountain on the surface.
As the spacecraft gets closer, more and more features are beginning to reveal themselves.
This includes the mysterious bright spots, which appear now as an array of dots scattered across the floor of a crater - but their source remains unknown.
These images were taken by the Dawn spacecraft in its second mapping orbit, from a height of 2,700 miles (4,400km).
Just six months ago, Ceres appeared as nothing more than a few pixels of light to Dawn. Now it is nearing its closest orbit to the increasingly interesting dwarf planet.
By December of this year, the spacecraft will be just 225 miles (360km) above the surface - lower than the International Space Station is above Earth.
For now, scientists must make do with these tantalising glimpses of the features that are waiting on the surface.
In one new image, a pyramid-shaped peak is seen towering over a relatively flat surface.
The mountain is peculiar, as there are a few other features like it in the surrounding region - or even the rest of the dwarf planet.
THE MYSTERIOUS WORLD OF CERES
Ceres is 590 miles (950 km) across and was discovered in 1801.
It is the closest dwarf planet to the sun and is located in the asteroid belt, making it the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system.
Ceres is the smallest of the bodies currently classified as a 'dwarf planet'.
It lies less than three times as far as Earth from the sun - close enough to feel the warmth of the star, allowing ice to melt and reform.
Nasa's Dawn spacecraft made its way to Ceres after leaving the asteroid Vesta in 2012.
There is high interest in the mission because Ceres is seen as being a record of the early solar system, and may also have shifting ice on its surface.
The structure is thought to rise about three miles (five km), which is roughly the height of Mont Blanc in France and Italy, the highest mountain in the Alps.
Another image reveals the bright spots in greater detail. Several can be seen next to the largest bright area, estimated to be six miles (9km) wide.
Ice and salt are the leading theories for what is causing this odd reflectivity.
‘It is exciting seeing these features come into sharper focus,’ Dr Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer, told MailOnline.
‘A few months ago, when Dawn began observing its new home from afar, we called it a bright spot. As the explorer closed in and provided better views, we realised it was two bright spots.
‘Now we see it is many. It’s still not clear what is causing these strong reflections, and I think still more data are needed.
‘Everyone has her or his own personal favorite theory, but the ultimate arbiter is nature. That is, we can all speculate, and we can offer arguments, but the answer is going to be clear soon.
‘My money is on the remnants from ice that has sublimated. The salts left behind then could be what’s reflecting the light.’