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NASA shows Ceres' bright spots in 'striking new detail'

The mysterious bright spots shining on dwarf planet Ceres go under closer inspection with a newly released NASA image.

By now, every space fan is aware of the weird bright spots NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted on dwarf planet Ceres, way out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The spots have intrigued scientists and sent alien theorists into overdrive ever since Dawn first noticed them during its approach earlier this year.

Possible explanations for those Ceres spots range from exposed ice reflecting the sun to light emanating from an underground alien space station. Dawn closed in and researchers noticed the spots were actually a collection of smaller spots. An image released by NASA on Wednesday shows the clearest view yet of the strange artifacts.

Bright spots on Ceres
Scientists are still working out how these spots were formed. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The image zooms in on the Occator crater, named for a Roman god who worked as an assistant to Ceres, goddess of agriculture. The crater contains the brightest of the spots found on the dwarf planet.

"Dawn has transformed what was so recently a few bright dots into a complex and beautiful gleaming landscape," Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director for the Dawn mission, said in a statement. "Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery."

NASA also released an animated video showing a 3D look at the crater to give viewers a better idea of the topography on the dwarf planet's surface. The rim of the crater rises 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) in places. No underground alien space stations are evident.

The Dawn spacecraft launched in 2007 on a mission to study protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. NASA has released a series of fascinating images recently, including a close look at a towering conical mountain on the surface of Ceres. The newest image of the bright spots just adds to the fascination.