In 2015 bright spots were found on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres. Now called the Occator Crater, it was named after Occator, the Roman god of the harrow and a helper to Ceres the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.
Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. As the largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres has been well researched and observed by astronomers. The discovery of the bright Occator Crater is attributed to previously unobtainable images that were captured when NASA’s spacecraft Dawn entered Ceres’ orbit in 2015. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) onboard Dawn was used to examine the bright material and its composition. A recent study published in the journal Nature links the Occator Crater to the presence of carbonate minerals. The study’s findings could indicate the highest concentration of carbonate minerals ever seen outside Earth, writes NASA. The VIR showed the dominant presence in the bright area is sodium carbonate, a salt mineral found in Earth’s hydrothermal environments.
Pictured above is an enhanced-color view of the Occator Crater. The images shows the difference in colouration between the crater and the surface of Ceres.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI