CNET readers' best guesses at explaining those Ceres mystery spots
For months now we've been wondering what the bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres are, as seen by the Dawn spacecraft. We've compiled some of our best reader guesses to help you place your bets.
Eric MackContributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is firstname.lastname@example.org.
ExpertiseSolar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/Credentials
Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
For a few months now, we've been hearing all kinds of possible explanations for what the heck is causing those bright, reflective spots on Ceres -- the largest object in the asteroid belt -- as NASA's Dawn spacecraft slowly moves in for a closer look.
The leading theory is that we're seeing the sun bouncing off large patches of ice, but there are other possible explanations, and I've already compiled eight of the most interesting hypotheses. But since then we've had a bit of a closer look, and our readers have suggested plenty more quite sensible (and occasionally quite silly) reasons why a dwarf planet seems to be sporting a bright pair of high beams.
Among the most scientifically viable (and least exciting) reader suggestions that we haven't heard elsewhere are sheets of glinting mica, limestone, a new kind of phosphorous material, large pools of liquid mercury, natural glass formed by an ancient impact or eruption -- or that the spots are not nearly as bright as they seem, but are a byproduct of very long exposures taken by Dawn's cameras to make up for the fact that Ceres is actually quite dark.
Then there are the more speculative ideas that tend to be a little more fun, like the lights being powered by electrical discharges from, well...something.
Naturally, there are plenty of suggestions that the lights are evidence of some sort of intelligent life, or more specifically of the ever-impressive ubiquity of Starbucks or Walmart.
Reader Jeff_R has this "ancient astronauts" explanation, but I can't really tell if it's meant to be serious or not:
"It's the remnants of an interstellar probe sent to study the formation of our solar system billions of years ago. Before it ran out of fuel it was intentionally crashed on Ceres to avoid possibly influencing the rise of life on one of the inner planets orbiting in the goldilocks zone."
Whatever there is to be found on the surface of Ceres, we're sure to hear plenty more about it over time, unless of course it turns out to be a Death Star powering up its weapons.