Dwarf Planet Ceres May Have Harbored A Vast Ocean

Posted: Oct 29 2017, 3:22am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 29 2017, 3:34am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Dwarf Planet Ceres may have Harbored a Vast Ocean
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Dawn mission finds possible ancient ocean remnants at Ceres

Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Dawn Mission have found evidences suggesting that dwarf planet Ceres may once have had a vast ocean. The findings prompt further scientific interest in the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system.

Mistaken for an asteroid for many years, dwarf planet Ceres has been a subject of intense interest since NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at the planet in early 2015. The surface of Ceres is cluttered with mysterious bright spots and is made of a mixture of salt and ice.

Previous studies suggest that these areas were exposed when water-ice sublimated in the past. In the latest effort, researchers have found traces of softer, easily deformable layer buried beneath Ceres' rigid surface crust, which could be the remnant of liquid left over from the ocean.

"More and more, we are learning that Ceres is a complex, dynamic world that may have hosted a lot of liquid water in the past, and may still have some underground.” Co-author Julie Castillo-Rogez, Dawn project scientist said in a statement.

Investigating Ceres’ interior using landers is technically challenging. Therefore, researchers have used Dawn’s observations to estimate the planet’s compositional properties and interior structure.

The topography or arrangement of physical features of an area can help understand interior of an object and Ceres contains a number of outstanding geolgical features that could hint at its present and past conditions. Researchers believe that a sold, rock-dominated surface can remain unchanged over the 4.5-billion-year-old age of the solar system, while a weak crust rich in ices and salts would deform over time.

Dawn’s observations indicated that Ceres once had more pronounced surface features, but they have smoothed out through years. In other words, it is geologically active if not now, then it may have been in the recent past.

The results are consistent with several thermal evolution models of dwarf planet’s published prior to Dawn's arrival there, supporting the idea that a large ancient ocean lied deep inside Ceres’ surface.

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