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Dawn is spiraling in for a closer look at Ceres, and researchers have discovered the best evidence yet for active volcanoes on Venus. Plus, check out Venus and Jupiter right next to each other in the sky!
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It's been traveling for almost 8 years. It's nearly 350 million kilometers from Earth, and after spending the last couple months in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, the Dawn spacecraft is gearing up for another move, one that might finally help solve the puzzle of those weird bright spots on Ceres' surface.

Right now, the probe is locked in orbit around 4,400 kilometers above Ceres, but if all goes well it'll start shifting down to a much closer orbit on June 30th. But it'll be more than a month before Dawn is finally in position to give us more information about this unusual mini-world. Hopefully we'll learn a little bit more about Ceres' unusual features, like this weird 6 kilometer-high feature in the shape of a pyramid, and of course, those spots.

Dawn first detected a bright spot back in January, when it was still almost 400,000 kilometers away, and as it's gotten closer, one spot has turned into many. But scientists still aren't really sure what they are. The most likely theory is that they're bits of ice reflecting lots of sunlight, but they could also be salt deposits, volcanoes, or geysers.

There's been so much fascination about these spots on Ceres that NASA has actually launched an online poll where anyone, including you, can vote for what you think is the most likely explanation. A huge pile of glitter! An oil slick! Uh, an alien beacon?! Maybe just... shiny rock. The link to the poll is in the description and while you're down there tell us your best guess in the comments below. 

But we also have plenty to learn about worlds much closer to home, like Venus. According to a new analysis published last week, Venus has active volcanoes. Now, there have actually been hints of this for a while, nearly 40 years ago the Pioneer Venus Orbiter detected spikes of sulfur dioxide levels in the planet's atmosphere that could've been a sign of volcanic activity. But the latest evidence comes from Venus Express, a probe that's spent 8 years studying the veiled planet before shutting down in December 2014 and burning up in the atmosphere.

When an international team of researchers looked through its data, they found four examples of hotspots - small areas of the planet that heated up and then quickly cooled down. According to the study, one of the spots was only a square kilometer, but it heated up to 830 degrees, about 350 degrees hotter than the planet's average temperature. 

The spots are also all on what are known as tectonic rift zones - cracks in the surface where hot magma might collect. Venus' geology is a lot different from Earth's though, it doesn't have tectonic plates that move around like ours do, instead its crust just stretches and shifts.

Researchers think that Earth might once have been like that too, so learning more about the lava flows on Venus can probably teach us something about our own planet's history. And if you want to take a look at Venus for yourself, now is a really great time to do it.

Jupiter and Venus are drawing closer together in the sky and on June 30th, they'll only be a third of a degree apart. That's close enough that you can actually get both planets in the same field of view with a small telescope. But the conjunction is also pretty obvious to the unaided eye, just look for the two brightest objects in the sky after the moon. The planets should be visible to the west for the first few hours after sunset. Jupiter's on its way to the far side of the Sun, while Venus is on our side so they're actually hundreds of millions of kilometers apart. But it's still cool to see those two bright spots look like they're passing by each other. 

The next time Jupiter and Venus get this close will be August 2016, but they'll both be visible until a few days after the 30th so keep your eyes on the sky. 

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