Bizarre Bright Spot On Ceres Has Shiny Companion

Ceres bright tight
This image was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft of dwarf planet Ceres on Feb. 19 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 km). It shows that the brightest spot on Ceres has a dimmer companion, which apparently lies in the same basin. See below for the wide view. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

What the? The bright spot on Ceres, the subject of much speculation, apparently has a smaller “companion” spot. Both glow brightly from inside a good-sized crater on the dwarf planet. The larger looks like a central peak or spot on a peak.

Certainly a most curious feature. Some scientists think the spots might be related to volcanic activity on Ceres. Credit:
Certainly a most curious feature. Some scientists think the spots might be related to volcanic activity on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Fascinating to look at, but the Dawn space probe is still too far away to give us the resolution we need to answer our questions. But watch out. The Internet may soon hum with talk of aliens, mirrors and lasers. I mean, come on, it just looks weird. The contrast between the rest of the asteroid and the spots is remarkable.

These images of dwarf planet Ceres, processed to enhance clarity, were taken on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. Dawn observed Ceres completing one full rotation, which lasted about nine hours. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
This and the photo below were taken on Feb. 19, 2015 and processed to enhance clarity. Notice the very large but shallow crater below center. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The pseudoscience-makers better hurry though. Dawn is fewer than 29,000 miles (46,000 km) away and closing fast. In little more than a week on March 6, the probe will be captured by Ceres gravity and begin a slow dance lasting some 6 weeks settling into a comfortable polar orbit around this intriguing world. That’s when even clearer pictures of the phantom lights will stream their way to Earth. They’re expected to have 100x the resolution of the images seen here.

A different hemisphere of Ceres photographed on Feb. 19. Credit:
A different hemisphere of Ceres photographed on Feb. 19. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, thinks it’s possible that the spots may point to a volcano-like origin. That’s just an educated guess at this point. Hang on to your hats – I suspect Ceres will be full of surprises.

79 Responses

  1. Edward M. Boll

    I should take a look at Ceres one of these days. I need to check it’s position first. I would think that if 2015 D1, (known as SOHO 2875) had stayed at magnitude 3 or 4 it might have been bright enough to spot tonight.

  2. Troy

    It’s interesting the spot is so bright that it is overexposed making it all that much harder to make out what the nature of the spot is.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Tom,
      That’s just a tad darker than the moon’s albedo. That’s why I originally thought some of Ceres bright spots might be rayed craters which stand out very clearly on the moon against the darker maria.

  3. Arthur C Clarke’s Lucy In The Sky comes to mind here where a mountain size diamond is ejected from Jupiter’s core by a massive impact that then drifts into the asteroid belt (crashes onto Europa in the book).
    Unless it’s just some tourist attraction in the center and an adjacent, yet safely distanced launch pad / parking lot next to it à la Futurama !

      1. Ray

        I tried for the comet last night without success… Meanwhile a new comet has been discovered at mag. 11 in SWAN images and is visible to (unfortunately) southern observers.

          1. astrobob

            Hi Ray,
            Sure has!! I’ve been trying to connect with the photographer to get permission to use the photo. Thanks!

  4. Chris Reeve

    Re: “The pseudoscience-makers better hurry though. Dawn is fewer than 29,000 miles (46,000 km) away and closing fast. In little more than a week on March 6, the probe will be captured by Ceres gravity and begin orbiting this intriguing world. Clear pictures of the phantom lights will then stream to Earth every day.”

    By my count, then, advocates of conventional cosmology and astrophysics have only about a week left to believe that space is electrically neutral.

    What would be helpful at this point would be for people to start learning about the observed behavior of electricity flowing over laboratory plasmas: The plasma will naturally tend to form into filaments, which subsequently exhibit a long-range attraction between one another — and also, as they approach, a short-range repulsion. The net effect is that current-carrying plasma filaments will observably rotate around one another without combining.

    For a more technical explanation, see

    It’s really a sign of the times that the laboratory-observed behavior of plasmas is frequently called pseudoscience within the cosmic context.

    For a review of observations of filaments in plasmas across orders of magnitude, see

    Keep in mind that water vapor has been observed coming from Ceres, so it would seem that cometary theory might be on the line as well. See

    For a review of bright spots on comets, and an electrochemical interpretation for observations of water vapor on both the Moon and comets, see

    For a review of the phenomenon of electric discharge machining (EDM) on planetary surfaces, see

    People seem unaware that there has been a debate for more than half of a century now between the Astrophysical Journal and IEEE’s Transactions on Plasma Science over how to model cosmic plasmas. This debate has important consequences for the issue of dark matter.

    For a review of the history of the debate over cosmic plasmas, see

    Pseudoscience indeed!

    1. astrobob

      I have no problem with plasmas and their behavior. As the main ingredient of stars, plasma makes up most of the observable material in the universe, but when applied to explain the formation of craters on Mars or plasmas as in the “electro-comet theory”, I draw the line.

      1. Chris Reeve

        I am first noting how fast you responded in light of the large number of resources I sent your way. You might want to take a closer look at those resources before coming to a conclusion on this longstanding controversy. My own observation born from a decade of ineractions is that many professional astrophysicists are largely unaware of the details of this debate.

        This debate over how to model cosmic plasmas was launched by Nobel laureate Hannes Alfven — and I tell the story (which is not taught to physics graduate students today, btw) in the last graphic on how Alfven used the occasion of his Nobel lecture to distance himself from the way in which the astrophysical community has decided to model cosmic plasmas with fluids equations which lack any ability to exhibit EMF.

        The problem should become apparent by taking a close look at the filamentary nature of dusty tokamak plasmas — for which we have excellent imagery. I cover this in one of the other graphics I posted. How is it that a fluids equation can accurately replicate the natural formation of plasmas into cylinder-and-hub morphologies?

        Either way, it would be nice — before we see any further detail — to know your thoughts on a few basic questions:

        Will your belief about plasma’s electric discharge machining capabilities any bit change if these bright spots are observed to move around the crater? If they rotate around one another, as electricity over laboratory plasmas?

        Will you propose that these are volcanoes which move across the surface?

        Or, in this particular scenario, would you prefer to claim that the sublimation occurs from solar radiation — and that we simply need to understand why it is that the solar radiation clumps into bright spots, and the sublimation rotates in these observable bright spots?

        1. astrobob

          If those spots start rotating around, I’d be thrilled. If they do, then I can’t wait for a possible explanation whether plasma’s involved or not. Speaking of the spots, I wrote a slightly more in-depth article on the bright spots for Universe Today today where I speculate at several possibilities for the spots’ origin:
          PS. I will not propose that volcanoes move across the surface. As for sublimation, you first need ice exposure, say from a fresh impact. And that’s just a guess at this point.

        2. caralex

          Oh for heaven’s sake, Chris! Given what we know of the water content of Ceres, is it beyond your comprehension to think that these white spots might JUST be patches of exposed ice???

        3. I only have a couple of questions:
          a) Is the google+ and youtube free for all circus the equivalent of a peer reviewed published paper?
          b) where the evidence that remotely suggests that the bright spots are moving?

          I’ve got more but I’m a nice guy…

          1. Chris Reeve

            Re: “a) Is the google+ and youtube free for all circus the equivalent of a peer reviewed published paper?”

            All of my graphics are sourced. The point with my graphics is to take the reader from zero to comprehension of the key points in a scientific controversy in the least amount of time necessary. This approach is based upon the findings of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman.

            There will come a moment in probably the next decade when people will widely look back upon the current attitudes about scientific controversies as quaint and a mistake. It’s very difficult for most people to see forward on these types of matters; as Steve Jobs stated, it only makes sense looking back.

            I would encourage people to pay very close attention to what is happening with the coding academies that are popping up today. How is it that these small businesses are stealing away market share from the university computer science programs? The answer to this question, in my view, will turn out to have significant ramifications for physics education reform:

            Academia has been pumping out computer science graduates who cannot even create modern webpages; they don’t understand how to do version control; they are not taught how to perform well in coding interviews; and these students never even get any practice at pair programming — a widespread practice in the coding industry. Academia has been in a bubble on the needs of computer scientists, and this has created an opportunity for the creation of a number of extremely successful 12-week coding bootcamps. Graduates from these programs are just now starting to flood Silicon Valley, and they are making upwards of $100k starting salary.

            Something very similar is arguably on the verge of happening today in science: Academia has decided that it will refuse to engage or even acknowledge the existence of a number of very important, longstanding scientific controversies. What will turn out to be a surprise for many who hold to a very traditional view of the sciences will be that this refusal creates an opportunity for the creation of new niche business models. These business models will be based upon the systematic mapping out of scientific controversies. We may even see the formation from this niche of new academic institutions which could eventually compete with the traditional universities.

            Do not look at what is happening today with scientific controversies as some sort of static situation. The failure to meaningfully engage scientific controversies will have long-term consequences for academia.

          2. Mike Harrington

            Where is the evidence suggesting they are not? Where is the evidence that the albedo matches ice of some type? Where is ANY evidence whatsoever?

            Is there some authority that doesn’t allow you to consider information as valid if it doesn’t come from journals who’s sources have been identified as your “peers”?

            Don’t mind saying – sounds like a defensive reaction of someone who has had their belief-system threatened. Of course, I’m trying to be nice, also.

            I’m an electronics technician, not an astrophysicist or astronomer. I know how electricity behaves, and you cannot force me, even at gunpoint, to believe that electrodynamics are different for atomic structures at some distance from the Earth than they are right in front of me.

            Thus- if someone states (for example) that the bright spots on comets are ices that are ablating in the extreme deep freeze out of the gas giant orbits, from the almost-negligible solar warming of bombardment of visible spectrum lightwaves- when instead I can believe that the power to excavate solid rock and dust is being generated by the enormous EM field of the Sun, and that this excavation is entirely similar to arc machining of a solid surface… which do you think I’m going to believe?

            If I sound crabby about this topic, there’s a reason- I physically work with electricity daily, and I understand the physics of it enough to see the clarity of thought behind Electric Universe explanations of observations.
            It’s sad that the IEEE hasn’t thrown as much money at pushing these ideas as modern cosmological institutions have at keeping the existing paradigm in place… oh well. The truth will eventually sort itself out, you can damn well rest assured there.

            Let me ask you this: If that bright spot on Ceres ends up spiraling around like an auger, drilling out a flat-floored, multi-tiered crater on the surface, and the close-ups of that crater do not show any kind of an impact basin, nor any ice patches on the bottom… will you still need one of your authoritarian “peer-reviewed journals” to tell you that it’s time to change your group-think?
            Science isn’t about faith, it’s about observations, explanations, and recreations. If you can not do an experiment that recreates the physics of your explanation of an observation… you do NOT have a ‘scientific’ explanation. It might be a popular explanation, like Whipple’s cometary explanation was… but in the face of current observation, it is no longer scientific to believe that comets are dirty snowballs. And if Ceres shows a couple of material plumes creating those bright spots in the weak solar illumination reaching Ceres, and those are not reflective surface patches…

            Well, you get the idea. Peace.

  5. Dawn Parendo

    Hey Bob –
    I just wanted to thank you for a great winter astronomy class. We got a little cold and booked out of there on Tuesday night before I was able to thank you. My nephew really enjoyed the class and I am sure we will take another one at some point. He told me he wanted to be like you – an astronomer and a photographer!
    Thanks again

    1. astrobob

      Hi Dawn,
      Well that’s so nice to hear. Thanks! I liked his pluck – a smart kid. I hope he goes far in astrophotography. If he ever has a question, feel free to ask it here.

  6. Troy

    I’m a bit astonished anyone out there is even entertaining the notion the white spots are in any way unnatural or are made by any process that isn’t part of Ceres normal evolution. It has long been known that Ceres likely has a water ice mantle and may have a lot of water, that’s a pretty good indication it is interesting but not that interesting. I like the whimsical explanation on the UT blog though, light pollution can’t escape it.

    1. astrobob

      I agree. Why go to something exotic and unproven when a simpler explanation (assuming there is one in Ceres’ case) will do?

      1. caralex

        Well, you saw it coming, Bob. The EU crowd getting into a frenzy over the idea (horror of horrors!) that there might be ice on Ceres!

      2. Chris Reeve

        Re: “I’m a bit astonished anyone out there is even entertaining the notion the white spots are in any way unnatural or are made by any process that isn’t part of Ceres normal evolution.”

        I’d like an opportunity to respond to this statement in full, if you don’t mind, Bob.

        I have to disagree that there is anything “astonishing” or “unnatural” about electricity in space (any more than if it was seen here on Earth …), and I am inclined to imagine that such reactions are born of a refusal to learn (beyond the textbook theories) about the debate over how to model cosmic plasmas that has gone on for more than half of a century by now between IEEE and the Astrophysical Journal.

        A person need only observe the difficulty I’ve already run into right here in convincing people to learn about this debate, to understand how difficult it is to convince people to actually engage this debate. I’ve presented materials so far on the history of the debate; on a dozen potential examples of electrical interactions between planetary bodies and their surrounding environments; on an admission by mainstream theorists that the water signal coming from the Moon is in actuality an electrochemical reaction between the solar wind protons and oxygen within silicates; on plasma scaling (a topic which has somehow survived wikipedia’s purge of everything EU); I’ve even presented a wide array of observations, both from the laboratory and cosmos of plasma’s natural tendency to form into filamentary pairs — a fact which I seriously wonder if most planetary scientists are even aware of (?).

        There should be nothing at all surprising about the notion of plasma filaments in space. Radio astronomer Gerrit Verschuur mentions in nearly every paper he publishes on HI hydrogen that the hydrogen is so extraordinarily filamentary in places that he refuses to even use the term “cloud”. The largest nearest galactic structures to the Milky Way — the Magellanic Clouds — are both unusually filamentary. Filaments as wide as the Earth are observed to connect the Sun with the Earth around every 8 minutes. Why would that be? Is this the behavior of a gas, fluid or cloud?

        I guess I’m surprised that somebody is surprised.

        Re: “I agree. Why go to something exotic and unproven when a simpler explanation (assuming there is one in Ceres’ case) will do?”

        I think the answer to this is really simple: Because what is ordinary to our current models is apparently so extraordinary to the universe that we can only claim to know 4% of the universe.

        … Because “Serious objections have been raised from the beginning of the space era about the application of MHD theory to collisionless space plasmas.” — George K Parks, this is the opening line of his paper titled “Why Space Physics Needs to Go Beyond the MHD Box”

        … Because questioning assumptions is a natural, even necessary, aspect of the scientific methodology.

        … Because our models for cosmic plasma are not at all “proven”, and they have no natural burden to be “simple” to humans, who have evolved in an environment where we are protected from such radiation.

        Re: “Well, you saw it coming, Bob. The EU crowd getting into a frenzy over the idea (horror of horrors!) that there might be ice on Ceres!”

        If this was the whole story, I’d not be here. Something is expelling this material (is it actually H2O, or are we talking about OH hydroxyl again?), and from what I’m reading, Ceres was thought by many scientists to be too old to support volcanic activity.


        “I personally consider cometary-style sublimation the most likely source, because I find it difficult to maintain the internal heat over the age of the solar system to maintain volcanoes”

        If you agree that the point of these missions is to try to improve upon our scientific theories, then why would we send missions to other worlds only to force-fit those observations into the textbook theory? To the extent that there are artificial social limits applied to this process of improving these ideas, the theories we end up with will ultimately reflect those social dynamics more than the data.

        1. astrobob

          All I can say is that if those spots start rotating or prove to be ionized plasma I’ll eat my eyepiece. Of course, plasma cannot absolutely be ruled out, but it seems far-fetched. The good news is that we’ll get to the bottom of it soon.

          1. Mike Harrington

            That is the most objective skeptical response I’ve seen yet here. Congratulations on not being locking-in-the-box, Astrobob. 😉

            We will see… we will, indeed.

  7. Allison

    The top picture almost makes it look as though the white spots are illuminating their surroundings, though I suppose that’s an imaging artifact.

    Wikipedia states that Dawn will eventually (in November) be placed in an orbit at a height of 375km, so the resolution should be something like 150x better than now, if my crude estimate is reasonable.

  8. Chris Reeve

    Re: “What has THAT long rant got to do with the white spots in the crater, Chris?”

    The problem which has come to swallow the “professional” citation-oriented approach of the planetary sciences is the never-ending addition of ad hoc hypotheses which are fundamentally designed to avoid questioning the dominant scientific framework. There comes a point, in light of anomalous observations, where refusing to question assumptions becomes an evasive, defensive act.

    This is relevant to Ceres because what we can expect to happen with this philosophical approach, if it is mistaken, is that there will come to be an observation which will so defy that approach that there will be no believable mainstream inference which can account for all of the observations. This observation will then, in turn, lead to the re-examination of a host of former inferences which by themselves were not game-changers. In this case of Ceres, there will be constraints imposed upon the interpretation applied by the albedo; (I predict) constraints applied by the observed motion of these bright spots; perhaps even their location (will they be visible on the dark side?); maybe the size and inferred age of the body.

    Jeff Schmidt explained the problem in great detail back in 2000, when he published his critique of the physics graduate program (Disciplined Minds), but given the inflammatory nature of that critique, I’ll avoid posting quotes here …

    This framework-driven approach in the planetary sciences has led to a bandwagon effect in scientific research. Here’s a letter explaining the problem from a graduate student who resigned just a few weeks shy of graduation …

    It’s not clear to me how the scientific community would react in a particularly problematic and close-to-home paradigm-busting observation, because switching between competing hypothesis in analysis (at least some of which are necessarily divergent from the textbooks) is something that requires practice. This “soft skill” should be an aspect and objective of the training programs (just like the soft skills which have been ignored in the CS world). If we were being *rational* about it, the response to a paradigm-busting observation would be to adopt a strong-inference PLUS philosophical approach for future planetary sciences missions …

    But, by contrast, what is happening today is that we are designing our planetary sciences missions based on assumptions about the validity of this scientific framework. This is why the Philae ended up with ice rather than rock screws (and hence, even if everything else had worked, never really stood a chance of connecting to 67P). These planetary sciences missions are entering a new humble phase in this regard, and there is no apparent realization or discussion of the increased level of risk associated with this change in approach. Considering competing worldviews as an aspect of the design of these crafts would hedge this never-ending doubling-down on the scientific framework, and even lead to novel lines of investigation which could over time grow. These are questions which science today simply refuses to ask.

    1. astrobob

      Once again, the spots on Ceres have not been observed to move. You’re making assumptions based on things that haven’t even been observed. So far, what’s been seen on Ceres is unusual but not without precedent (the moon’s crater rays, icy volcanism, etc.). We just need a clearer view and measurements of the locations’ compositions from orbit. Until that’s done, the scientific method of observation, evidence collecting and hypotheses testing will serve us well. Naturally, the first thing an observer does when faced with an interesting new phenomenon before them is to compare it to similar processes observed before. This is very different from the breathless world of youtube where even ordinary events are “never before seen”, demand exotic explanations and “change everything we know about science”.

      1. Chris Reeve

        Re: “Naturally, the first thing an observer does when faced with an interesting new phenomenon before them is to compare it to similar processes observed before.”

        Yes, but it is really an all-or-nothing approach in that it cannot fully substitute for being inclusive to competing worldviews at some step of the scientific methodology. As things stand today, it’s not clear to me which step of the scientific process where it is appropriate to question the framework itself. The problem that this (eventually) creates is a failure to understand mounting evidence. To your eyes, and the planetary scientists who are tasked with explaining these features, the mystery just began (to some here, there will never be any mystery regardless of the observations).

        But, to those who have been studying the competing worldview for decades now, there is already a very long list of anomalous observations and questionable inferences (If Ceres actually turns out to be anomalous, I can recount all of them for you). I’ve studied this debate for a decade now, and the topic is far larger than the people here realize. I study peoples’ reactions to these alternative claims, by running claims back-and-forth between both sides. I’ve spoken extensively with all of the prominent EU critics (Tim Thompson, APODNereid, Tom Bridgman, Brian Koberlein, etc). What has become apparent from this process is that advocates for mainstream theory are largely unaware of what claims are actually being made. Koberlein in particular has probably put the least amount of effort into understanding electrical cosmology, and it sometimes leads to embarrassing situations.

        As many of you guys already probably know, the Thunderbolts Group has made the enormously inflammatory claim that conventional astrophysicists and cosmologists do not appear to recognize the laboratory-observed behavior of electromagnetic plasmas when they observe it. Many people have cried foul at the mere suggestion that there is some sort of oversight happening with regards to plasmas and E&M.

        For those who have their doubts, I would like to provide a very clear example of this claim’s validity:

        It’s not that I’m making assumptions here. My perspective is simply broad. I see all of the lines of argumentation at once, and that provides a larger context for my speculation.

        Re: “This is very different from the breathless world of youtube where even ordinary events are “never before seen”, demand exotic explanations and “change everything we know about science”.”

        Science is constantly in a state of tension — between two polar opposite concerns: There is the threat of pseudoscience (the subject of much discussion today, and for many, the only threat of the two), but there is simultaneously the opposite threat of groupthink. What we have seen over the past few decades in the planetary sciences in particular is that there has been an over-focus upon the threat of pseudoscience, and an under-appreciation of the threat imposed by ruling hypotheses. A correction, in my view, is inevitable; the real question is where it will come from.

      2. Mike Harrington

        Don’t forget the world of popular scientific news releases- what we shall find on Ceres won’t be a humdrum and boring confirmation of our current paradigm, but instead will be ‘surprising’, ‘perplexing’, etc etc.

        The rotating bright spots are a prediction, not a case of jumping the gun. Now, we simply wait and see…

        The suspense is palpable. 😉

          1. caralex

            Exactly! When did any astronomer EVER see rotating spots on any planet/asteroid/comet ever visited?

  9. Bren

    Those lights send my minds sci-fi engines into overdrive. The brights spots are most likely being caused by natural phenomena but just for fun I like to think about what they could be if they weren’t. My favorite thought on an unnatural cause is that the two spots are structures built by a Von Neumann probe. Considering that Ceres is in a prime spot for observation of both the inner and outer planets, the larger of the two spots could be a telescope mirror. While the smaller of the two could be part of a laser communication Array. Just some fun food for thought.

  10. Chris Reeve

    Re: “When did any astronomer EVER see rotating spots on any planet/asteroid/comet ever visited?”

    Nobody is going to see evidence at all of anything when they will take the time to ask the question, but then ignore all attempts at providing the answer. Once again, here is a review of a dozen instances of either electrical discharge machining (EDM) or large-scale interaction between a solar system body and its electrical environment:

    The case for Birkeland currents on Ceres rests upon movement of the bright spots across the surface in ways which would not be expected of cryovolcanoes or sublimation. The rotation could occur across a number of scales (there’s no guarantee that we will be at the correct scale to witness it with this probe …). Bright moving spots have indeed been observed before; they are simply inferred in ways other than EDM.

    EDM & electrical interactions can manifest in a variety of ways: Sometimes it will be a dipolar vortex; sometimes it will create ice fractures which do not interact with former ice fractures; sometimes it will create terracing within the walls of flat-bottomed craters; it can also leave central spires in craters which if they are closely inspected will be observed to exhibit the original stratigraphy; other times it will create a rille which follows the contour of the land, and which will suddenly become crater chains, much like the way a Jacob’s ladder works; in one instance, it appears to have created perfect cycloids which can span many hundreds of miles.

    To be clear: In each case, there will (almost) always be an alternative explanation which theorists can conjecture, which appears to suggest a conventional explanation. This should surprise nobody. It is ultimately up to each individual to decide for themselves if these conventional inferences make more sense than the electrical interpretation; but, the only way to do that, clearly, is to learn both frameworks. To the extent that people refuse to learn the competing framework, there should be no mystery about their preferences and tendencies.

    And actually, we can even say much more about these types of decisions … That in the place of these scientific inferences (rational sense-making), those who refuse to learn the competing framework will predictably substitute in believable narratives (aka associative coherent stories) which benefit from the lack of detail that results from this refusal to learn. Those believable narratives will tend to fall apart once a person educates themselves on the competing framework — pretty much exactly as Daniel Kahneman has explained at I have provided a transcript of this lecture here:

    Kahneman also importantly advises on when to trust expert judgment in the sciences here:

    Notice that astrophysics and cosmology would, by his criteria, lack the gut instinct certainty required to place full trust in expert judgement. In these domains, questioning the experts — by Kahneman’s experiments in decision theory — should be a natural, expected aspect of these domains.

    What leads me to specifically speculate that we will see rotation is the fact that there are two bright patches here next to one another, and they are both centered within a crater — suggesting that they are possibly excavating the crater itself. If this is true, then this would come even as a surprise to electrical theorists, because it had been assumed to date that craters are only excavated by electrical interactions between nearby objects.

    I should clarify that neither Wal Thornhill nor Don Scott have yet to offer their own interpretation on this, and I do not speak for him or their group. Their comprehension of this framework exceeds my own.

    These conversations we are having here are only superficial shells of what they could be if people were to seek to understand the arguments being made. The inferences made are based upon laboratory observations of plasmas. The nature of the conjectures/predictions/claims relate to how those observed processes scale and map to planetary-scale bodies. There is a form of logic here which anybody can learn. Some simply refuse to learn it — perhaps because it differs in a variety of ways from the more conventional theories — and then nevertheless argue against it from this manufactured perspective. Each framework should be permitted to evolve in response to observations; there is no requirement that the frameworks should all evolve the same way, so to the extent that people are filtering the EU out on the basis of comparisons with conventional theory, this demonstrates an outright rejection of philosophy of science. It takes us back to a pre-Kuhnian science.

    1. astrobob

      Craters, crater chains and pits have a far more natural, less exotic and well-proven explanation as being caused by impact, subsidence and volcanism. We see these very processes at work on our own planet. We’ve seen impacts in near real time on Earth, the Moon and Mars. When was the last time you noticed a plasma cloud zapping craters on Earth? This is nothing but pseudoscience dressed in fancy language. No evidence, no peer-reviewed papers. I’m not saying this because I don’t believe in paradigm change (I do) – science in the long haul has been rife with it – but you haven’t “shown me the money”. Please give us one proven example of a real crater (not a lab experiment) for which we have definitive evidence it formed through a plasma interaction.

      1. Chris Reeve

        Re: “When was the last time you noticed a plasma cloud zapping craters on Earth?”

        That’s a disingenuous question, given that the Earth has a sufficiently thick atmosphere today to preclude most such interactions. I have to imagine that you knew the answer to this question before you even asked it, Bob.

        Electrical interactions between Earth and space do not say a whole lot about the inference of EDM for bodies in space which lack such atmosphere. We can agree on this, right?

        Re: “This is nothing but pseudoscience dressed in fancy language. No evidence, no peer-reviewed papers.”

        I will once again post the link to a list of a dozen inferences for EDM and electrical interactions between solar system bodies and the surrounding space:

        Re: “Please give us one proven example of a real crater (not a lab experiment) for which we have definitive evidence it formed through a plasma interaction.”

        What I’ve clearly stated is that it will be very difficult to find instances where there exists no possible mainstream explanation for planetary features. This is an expected feature of paradigm-driven science, and it should not surprise or impress anybody. Nor, should it be viewed as a measure of “success” for a paradigm, because planetary scientists would not be doing their job if the paradigm’s exemplars were not expanded to encompass all observations. What has confused many people today is the assumption that the exemplars are natural fits. Knowing that requires an extra effort and focus beyond what most people pay attention to.

        After all, the only way to identify the best questions which can cast light on the weakest inferences is to learn enough about a competing framework to facilitate that focus. Nobody gets to choose what data will make the best case for a particular framework. The data tells us, and either people listen — or not.

        This is why I have repeatedly pointed to my graphic on EDM: The intent is to focus you and others on the most important claims which follow from the most important observations that relate to the idea of electric craters. These are the inferences which the competing paradigm says we should be questioning.

        It’s really important that you understand this point: The arguments about the conventional inferences for craters do not stem simply from observations of craters. Electrical cosmology dictates that we take a more broad look at rilles, glass, features in ice and the emission of OH from planetary surfaces.

        To the extent that you feel you are justified in defining the questions which you feel can differentiate conventional from EU inferences, I have to ask you point-blank: Why do you feel that you have this ability? From what I’ve observed to date, you’ve not taken the time to study the claims being made. I can’t even get you to learn the content of the EDM graphic. Your decisions about what to focus on derive entirely from the conventional theory. How can such a focus EVER produce anything other than your preferred conclusions? There has to be a willingness to hear out the competing arguments by somebody who is attempting to make a persuasive case, before there can be any expectation that anybody will ever be convinced of absolutely anything.

        What I can *definitively* state is that there is indeed evidence that plasma filaments can travel through space. I’ll provide one single example where our probe was observed to pass through such a filament. See

        A new analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini mission has revealed that, during a 2005 flyby of Saturn’s moon Hyperion, the spacecraft was briefly bathed in a beam of electrons coming from the moon’s electrostatically charged surface.


        the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) detected that the spacecraft was magnetically connected to the surface of Hyperion for a brief period, allowing electrons to escape from the moon toward the robotic probe.


        “It was rather like Cassini receiving a 200-volt electric shock from Hyperion, even though they were over 2,000 kilometers [1,200 miles] apart at the time,” said Nordheim.

        It’s incidentally worth noting that these findings were sat on for 9 full years before they were published.

        Past that, I really feel no need at all to type in the content of the graphics I have already posted to this forum. This is not a good use of my time considering that I’ve already done this work, and there is nothing extraordinary about the format of this forum here which compels me to downgrade my more graphical approach. We are, after all, talking about interpreting imagery here. A graphical approach is absolutely required if there is any chance for alternative interpretations to be persuasive.

        1. astrobob

          It’s a long way from bodies being capable of being electrostatically charged (ie. the Moon, Hyperion) to blasting craters and terracing crater walls with plasma. As well, the flow of electrons from the Hyperion’s terminator was predicted. It’s undeniable that electricity plays a role whenever dust is present – since it naturally gets charged in UV sunlight – but EU folks take the concept to ridiculous extremes when alternative explanations are available.

          1. Chris Reeve

            Re: “It’s a long way from bodies being capable of being electrostatically charged (ie. the Moon, Hyperion) to blasting craters and terracing crater walls with plasma. As well, the flow of electrons from the Hyperion’s terminator was predicted. It’s undeniable that electricity plays a role whenever dust is present – since it naturally gets charged in UV sunlight – but EU folks take the concept to ridiculous extremes when alternative explanations are available.”

            This, to me, makes a mockery of your insistence on peer-reviewed research. Peer review cannot substitute for critical thinking. You’ve clearly bought into the notion of a 1,200 mile 200-volt electric spark caused by UV sunlight! I’m guessing then that you see no issue either with gamma rays from lightning caused by ice particles rubbing against one another! How is it that we are not to chuckle at these kinds of claims?

            The very fact that such claims go completely unchallenged by these peer reviewers you depend so heavily upon says far more about the reviewers than anything else could.

            And once again, you propose that the mere existence of a conventional explanation is sufficient to avoid the process of seeking out critique couched from a competing framework. But, in doing so, you’ve plainly taken a routine feature of paradigm-driven science, and are using it as an argumentative weapon that — we are told — excuses you and others from questioning the framework.

            Nature does not care that you have a theory which can sort-of explain it. If your expectation is that we can rest our case at the first glimpse of a *possible* solution, then you’ve drastically under-estimated the complexity of this endeavor. The task we are faced with is to figure out — of all of the possible solutions we can come up with, each requiring an extraordinary effort in its own right in manpower, funding and intellectual courage — which, of all of those possible explanations, is the right one.

            In a sense, you’ve basically made it to second base, yet are claiming that you’ve slid into home plate.

            I will say it once again: Breadth-of-fit is not even an extraordinary feature for a dominant scientific framework. It’s what happens when you hand over many billions of dollars over many decades to many thousands of paid workers who are all collaborating together to expand the same set of exemplars they were all forced to memorize in graduate school, to observations. We can all marvel at the amazing theoretical structure which has been assembled, but nobody should for a second imagine that the breadth-of-fit that followed necessitates that it’s correct. What is plainly evident by now is that electrical cosmology could be elaborated just as far under similar circumstances — with the advantage that we could replace dark matter & energy with a fundamental force (electricity).

            The onus is still upon the consumer of scientific theories to evaluate for themselves which explanation from which scientific framework offers the better, more natural fit in each instance — and this will prove to be absolutely impossible for those who eagerly seek out excuses to avoid the hard work of — with an open mind — learning those competing framework(s).

          2. astrobob

            OK – forget peer-review. Please show us any hard evidence that craters and terraced walls and central peaks whether on the airy Earth, virtually airless moon, Nereid, Vesta and on and on were formed by plasma interactions. Just because you think it’s possible does not make it so. I’m ready to be convinced, just as I was of gamma rays from thunderstorms, but will need abundant evidence before I’ll believe plasma zaps are behind crater forms.

          3. this reminds me of theists trying to debunk evolution. ignore all the observations and evidences, cherry pick through the literature, make up stuff, denigrate and resort to ad hominem attacks towards the people that actually studied the field (they’ll say you have a closed mind when you ask to see the evidence), and then repeat ad nauseam until someone buys into their snake oil scam as there’s money to be made selling meaningless diatribe filled books and the no doubts upcoming DVD’s. The facts are that DAWN is arriving at Ceres and will orbit it for at least a full year making observations 24/7 that are not subjected to conspiracy theories (i hate using this word in that context.
            After the trolls are debunked, they just move on to the next scam. Remember comet Elenin, Nibiru, Mars as big as the full Moon or the Mayan apocalypse to name a few? What will be the next dis-information scam? We’ll have a total lunar eclipse in 5 weeks (another in October), New Horizons’s encounter with Pluto in 4 and a half months and a total solar eclipse crossing the continental United States in 28 months. Your pick is as good as anyone.
            Education and reason will prevail Bob. 🙂

          4. astrobob

            What’s shocking (excuse the pun) is how ardent the electric universe crowd is. Then again, maybe not. Elenin and Niburu inspired just as much rhetoric and pseudoscientific claims. What’s common to all these weird schemes is adherence to the “one idea” that explains everything. There’s a craving for this in our culture.

  11. SirCharlie

    What are the chances that we will be able to see this up close enough to render a definite answer to what it is? Will this just end up being a little closer look at 2 white spots, and we’ll still have no idea as to what it is or how it got there?

    1. astrobob

      The chances are very good. Not only will get views a hundred times sharper than what we see in the latest images, but Dawn should be able to determine the composition of the bright spots using its Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector which maps elements present in minerals on the surface.

  12. Michael Watson

    I looked at the animated sequence of images from Ceres, released on Mar. 2nd. It appeared that the ‘bright spot’ was still visible, when the floor, and even the rim of the crater in which it lies, was dark. That seems to rule out something on Ceres’ surface returning a certain percent of light to Dawn’s camera. No light to return, it appears.
    Is this something extending above Ceres’ surface, a vapor plume, or the like, catching the Sun? If so, I wonder why is shows no vertical component, when viewed at an oblique angle, rather than straight on, as one might expect. A remarkably bright, compact plume it would have to be.

  13. Jim Johnson

    In yesterday’s animated rotation of Ceres images, the two bright spots maintain their brightness as they rotate past the terminator, last seen as bright spots on the darkened crater floor and (the smaller spot) partway up the eastern crater rise. The smaller might have been able to reflect some of the last sunlight back to Dawn’s camera if it is just a high albedo spot, but the brighter area down in the dark floor, shaded by the crater’s rim from direct sunlight, seems as bright as ever, although foreshortened a little as it rotates toward the horizon.

    At least this time no one has painted it red to simulate a lava eruption… (Io from Magellan). Still, we are all waiting for the really high resolution and spectroscopic breakdown of the light from this interesting, anomalously bright region, this coming week.

    1. Michael Watson

      I noticed the gradual geometric foreshortening, too. I looks like a flat object, not one of any vertical extent. While appearing to be on the floor of a shadowed crater, it would actually seem to be at a higher altitude than this, unless it’s self-luminous! We have quite a wait, now, before this situation is cleared up.

  14. Sally Davis

    There are two kinds of scientists.They can both be observed in this discussion. The first learns because he wants to impress others with his knowledge. The second learns because he wants to know the truth, at whatever cost.

    1. caralex

      True, Sally. The real scientist will admit when the theories he follows turn out to being proven wrong, and will move on, refining and testing new hypotheses, until a new theory can be formulated. The pseudoscientist, on the other hand, will cling even more desperately to nonsensical, unworkable, demonstrably false theories, and NEVER admit to being wrong. That’s the perfect example of closed-mindedness.

      1. Calling someone a name – “pseudoscientist” – is just a fancy way of bullying. What’s “pseudo” about either scientist? They’re both real, and both have real arguments. It’s just that one is working harder than the other. And the other won’t even read or consider or answer questions put to him about information provided. The term laziness comes to mind (describing behavior) not a label like “pseudo” that’s meant to discredit, ridicule and reject a person. Ridicule injects feelings into a discussion (“I can hurt you!”) and shuts ideas down in an insidious way. It does no credit to science which is supposed to be about impartial observation and objective reasoning.

        1. astrobob

          Hi Sally,
          I’ll let Carol reply too, but you’re referring to my use of the word. It is pseudoscience when no evidence is offered other than a general feeling that everything in the world is connected. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean that flares cause earthquakes, to give a recent example. Anyone can make any claim if it seems reasonable to them, but to keep insisting it’s true when it’s patently false (contradicting clear evidence or not backed by new evidence to the contrary) is to have a closed mind to a real explanation. How about the Apollo moon landings? Are we to really believe they never happened because someone wants to passionately pursue the truth on the matter?

          I’m prepared to believe outrageous ideas but please, a little proof in the pudding first :). That’s why I ask readers to be skeptical of the fringe, especially some of what shows up on youtube.

          Over the years I’ve heard from many folks who were absolutely certain of their claims and made predictions based upon them – the Mayan end-of-times, Comet Elenin causing giant earthquakes to name just two. The predictions were false and nothing ever came of them. The people who concoct this stuff usually disappear for a while after their predictions don’t materialize and then reappear later with new, amazing claims.

          Why should readers be mislead and waste their time with scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo when the real thing done by hard-working actual scientists is wonderful enough? Don’t get me wrong. I understand that science will never have the ultimate explanation for everything, but at least it’s on the right track.

          1. OK, but isn’t that what Sydney Chapman did, protect people from those wacko ideas of Kristian Birkeland? And refuse to actually visit his lab and see his experiments? I think readers of your blog can distinguish between a fleeting, hysterical “end-of-times” claim and ideas that have been around for a century, have basis in lab experiments, and are proposed by men (mostly men, it appears to me), some of whom who taught or teach graduate degree courses at universities and hold other respectable positions. Give us some credit.

          2. astrobob

            What Chapman did was wrong, but every new idea in science has its opponents, and many who support the prevailing theory/paradigm won’t budge till they see proof. Especially if the theory contradicts their version. More personal issues can also be at stake like ego and status. Funny the way science works – eventually Chapman embraced Birkeland’s ideas.

            Birkeland was the real thing – he gathered and tested data and proposed a theory which was eventually accepted by the science community once enough data were gathered to confirm it. You’re obviously knowledgeable about science, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but for every Birkeland there are a thousand others either barking up the wrong tree or willfully manufacturing scientific-sounding theories without evidence. The latter is how I see the Apollo hoaxers, Mars monument manufacturers and comet alignment fear-mongerers. Most reading this blog have the good sense to ignore this stuff, but some are taken in. Why? Because it sounds plausible if you don’t have a science background. Not to mention that the websites or videos are well-produced, making the claims somehow more believable. So I caution skepticism.

            I’ve read a lot about some of the fringe claims in recent years and they just don’t stand up. Read their websites and you’ll often see they have simple physics wrong or make incredible, unsupported conjectures. Right away, that’s a tip off. If they can’t get simple facts right, their grand theory has no legs. And if they’re pushing books about their ideas at the same time, that’s further evidence of an agenda.

            I’ll make you this promise – if some of the crazy claims turn out to be true down the road, I’ll go with the flow. Until then, let’s see the hard work and evidence. By the way, more women than ever are doing great science. It makes me happy to see the culture change.

        2. caralex

          Sally, there’s no ‘bullying’ involved. By ‘pseudoscientist’, I was referring to creationists, flat-earthers, hollow-earthers, geocentrists, electric universe proponents, etc, to name a few in the astronomy-related field. Of course there are others, such as the anti-vaccination crowd, but that’s not astronomy related.

          The pseudo-scientists can never provide proof of their theories, and when challenged, become defensive and even more entrenched in their positions. Name-calling, claims of ‘cover-up’, ‘paid shill’, ‘government agent’, etc. then inevitably follow. Their tired, old, worn-out claims never change over the years. Real science, on the other hand, is always moving forward with new discoveries, amending previous theories that turned out to be wrong, and happily embracing new information. The pseudos would NEVER do anything as radical as admit being wrong or change course.

          Hope that clarifies things for you! 😀

          1. caralex

            Thanks, BC. Methinks Sally has a very confused notion of the difference between science and religion, not to mention science and pseudoscience.

  15. “…creationists, flat-earthers, hollow-earthers, geocentrists, electric universe proponents” … and “anti vaccination crowd.”

    Wow. Lumping them all together. People who take the Bible literally are thrown together with people who scoff at the Big Bang as creationism with origins in Catholic theology. People who lived in the 16th century thrown in with parents of kids who fear a 20th century disorder. Wow. Just wow.

    What about parents and kids who opt out of standardized tests? They’re questioning mainstream orthodoxy. How about people on Paleo diets? Do they get put on your list of heretics? Shouldn’t they also be burnt at the stake?

    This is the dogma of Science as religion, with scientists as the new high priests, “always moving forward with new discoveries, amending previous theories that turned out to be wrong, and happily embracing new information?” If that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.

    I recommend a book: The Great Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. It has nothing to do with astronomy. But I dare you to read it and see if your faith in a black and white, fairy tale world of Science still holds.

    1. caralex

      “…creationists, flat-earthers, hollow-earthers, geocentrists, electric universe proponents” … and “anti vaccination crowd.”

      Wow. Lumping them all together. People who take the Bible literally are thrown together with people who scoff at the Big Bang as creationism with origins in Catholic theology. People who lived in the 16th century thrown in with parents of kids who fear a 20th century disorder. Wow. Just wow.”

      Yes, Sally – all the wows you want. Wow squared, even wow cubed. Bottom line, they all deny science. And what’s more scary, is that the flat earthers and geocentrists don’t belong to just the 16th century – they’re alive and well in this present century, trying their best to drag the gullible back to the middle ages. Doesn’t that bother you just a tad?

      “If that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.”

      It’s science, Sally. That’s how the scientific method works. Look it up. Science requires a commitment to a strict methodology and experimentation, and a determined effort on the part of the scientist. Religion requires nothing of the kind. Just pronounce a blind faith in Jesus or whatever god you choose, hand over your precious earnings to some greedy pastor, and you’re saved. Not an ounce of effort involved in trying to better yourself. The lazy way through life.

      “I recommend a book: The Great Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. It has nothing to do with astronomy. But I dare you to read it and see if your faith in a black and white, fairy tale world of Science still holds”.

      I’m not sure what a book on milk, butter and cheese has to do with the denial of science. If these foods, once seen as baddies, are now seen as goodies, it’s a perfect example of what I said above about real science – the part you sneered at, remember? i.e. “real science, on the other hand, is always moving forward with new discoveries, amending previous theories that turned out to be wrong, and happily embracing new information”.

      All the best!

      1. Teicholz scrutinized peer reviewed research, lots of it, and found gaping holes in methodology and conclusions. She uncovered research with data and conclusions differing from the prevailing theory that was suppressed. She interviewed scientists whose careers were ruined because they questioned the dogma. And people died prematurely following “science’s” findings. Much has never been corrected and would never have seen the light of day if it weren’t for her doggedness.

        I agree with a lot of what you say about religion. When it doesn’t involve real work on yourself, it’s a sham.

        1. I disagree with that last statement. A book on nutrition is not a peer reviewed scientific paper.
          Is the existence of New York City proof that Spiderman exists?
          The scientific method is not perfect but it is the best way to find out what’s real. Fraudsters have slipped through before (cold fusion & autism being linked to immunization comes to mind) and no doubts will again in the future. Legitimate scientists have been showed to be wrong. But the method allows for others to questions if the results can be duplicated and when they’re not, more questions arise, raising more flags of doubts. There are still scientists that claim that tobacco is not addictive or that climate change is not caused by humanity. When someone makes claims, it must be backed up by evidence. The more extra-ordinary the claims are, the more extra-ordinary the evidence has to be.
          The important factor is the consensus of the majority of studies. Religious dogma can not be discussed and is not falsifiable while science implicitly invites others to tests the results and that is how our knowledge goes forward. The agenda conspiracies are just baseless fear mongering without merit.

          1. caralex

            Well said, BCStargazer.

            “I disagree with that last statement. A book on nutrition is not a peer reviewed scientific paper.”

            I was reading the reviews on the book Sally mentions. It seems the author herself is guilty of doing what she accuses scientists of doing – cherry-picking information that suits her own point of view. That’s not scientific either!

  16. You may have cherry picked a review yourself, since the book is:
    A New York Times bestseller
    Named one of The Economist’s Books of the Year 2014
    Named one of The Wall Street Journal’s Top Ten Best Nonfiction Books of 2014
    Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Books of 2014
    Forbes’s Most Memorable Healthcare Book of 2014
    Named a Best Food Book of 2014 by Mother Jones
    Named one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014

    1. I fail to see to see how any of those blanket lists makes any of that book’s claims true. The Harry Potter ad nauseam series is a New York Times best seller as well. Even Forbes Magazine published an article in 2013 on how to buy your way onto that list. I also noted how you fail to provide any of the rankings. What ? It didn’t make Dr. Oz’s list ? How is a diet book (we all know how accurate those are) relevant on an astronomy blog. If that is not cherry picking, I’d like to know what is.
      You just made caralex’s point with your own writing.

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