After months of probing ever-sharper images of dwarf planet Ceres sent back by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, the space agency thinks it has a pretty good guess about the source of a series of mysterious bright spots reflecting back from the surface of the largest object in the asteroid belt.
"We believe this is a huge salt deposit," Dawn's principal investigator Chris Russell told a crowd of scientists Monday at the European Planetary Science Congress in Nantes, France, in a talk that was posted online Thursday. "We know it's not ice and we're pretty sure it's salt, but we don't know exactly what salt at the present time. "
This may come as something of a surprise to many watching the drama on Ceres unfold who guessed that the spots were reflective ice, given that the dwarf planet is believed to harbor a subsurface ocean that could have been exposed and then frozen by asteroid impacts.
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