"No one expected a mountain on Ceres, especially one like Ahuna Mons," said Dawn's principal investigator Chris Russell, of the University of California, Los Angeles. "We still do not have a satisfactory model to explain how it formed."
PHOTOS: Our Dwarf Planet Dreams are Coming into Focus
The now-famous Occator Crater lies some 420 miles northwest of Ahuna Mons, a huge impact crater that is speckled with bizarre white patches that have, so far, also eluded a satisfactory explanation. It's possible that the bright features on the slopes of Ahuna share a common source as Occator's white spots and it is hoped that now Dawn is so close to Ceres' surface, these questions may soon be answered.
"Dawn began mapping Ceres at its lowest altitude in December, but it wasn't until very recently that its orbital path allowed it to view Occator's brightest area," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's chief engineer and mission director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This dwarf planet is very large and it takes a great many orbital revolutions before all of it comes into view of Dawn's camera and other sensors."