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As NASA's Dawn spacecraft pulled into orbit earlier this month around the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, it spotted a mysterious bright spot inside a crater. There were suspicions that the spot could be caused by water spewing into space, now fresh views, presented for the first time yesterday, lend weight to the idea.

The pictures show the bright spot is visible even from the side, meaning it probably protrudes above the crater. "What is amazing is you can see this feature while the rim is very likely in front of the line of sight," said Andreas Nathues, who is in charge of the mission's camera, and presented the images yesterday at the Lunar and Planetary Science conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas. "We believe this could be some kind of outgassing."

Images taken from dusk to dawn on Ceres show that the spot brightens throughout the day and completely disappears at night. This suggests it could be a pocket of ice on the surface that is being heated by the sun and releasing gas, similarly to how a comet behaves. However, Natheus said the team needed higher resolution data to confirm its true nature. This won't come for a while, as Dawn is currently on the dark side of Ceres and won't emerge until mid-April.

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