Earlier this summer, the Dawn spacecraft observed some striking “bright spots” on Ceres. NASA made this into a PR game, challenging the public to vote on what these spots are (ice, salts, whatever).
OK, it’s not horrible to try to create interest in far off planetary science, even if it made no sense to guess from the monochrome images when the spacecraft was about to move lower and collect high resolution, multispectral data. (I.e.,, the correct answer was, “wait until we see the data”.)
That was in April, and Dawn has collected more data, including spectral data.
But NASA is still milking this “mystery”, releasing more detailed (but scientifically negligible) monochrome imagery and fancy animations, laying on the hokum, “Soon, the scientific analysis will reveal the geological and chemical nature of this mysterious and mesmerizing extraterrestrial scenery.” Soon?
My prediction is that there will be splashy press releases accompanying papers at the big conferences this fall (AGU in December and AAS in January for sure). That would be about normal for writing up important results.
I’m sure there will be results from Rosetta and New Horizon at those same conferences.
For comparison, I note a nice blog post by Carly Howett, “New Horizons Probes the Mystery of Charon’s Red Pole”. Without condescending, she walks through the question of the red appearance of Charon’s surface. She explains some exotic chemistry that can generate Thorin, a Nitrogen, Methane, and Carbon Monoxide ice, which she hypothesizes are the constituents of the deposits we observe on Charon.
But the story is far from complete or solidly supported, and she says, “This is one of the many things I am looking forward to better understanding as we receive more New Horizons data over the next year and analyze it in conjunction with continued laboratory work.”
To me, this keeps my interest far better than boneheaded public opinion “polls”. Science is about careful thinking, not about guessing. And I really like getting insight about the thinking behind the hypotheses, which good science teachers do so well.