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Dwarf Planet Ceres May Have Had an Ancient Ocean, According to Study

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It’s been while since Ceres has made any headlines, since the bright spot news from awhile ago. Though this is not bright spot related, it is still pretty fascinating.

via Popular Mechanics

Minerals containing water have found to be widespread on the dwarf planet Ceres, which exists in asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The evidence suggests an ancient ocean, as well as geologic activity.

“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,” says Julie Castillo-Rogez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California in a press release. Castillo-Rogez was also a co-author of the two papers NASA has published on new Ceres developments, including one published at the Journal of Geophysical Research.

The theories about geologic activity stem from four sources on the planet: Occator, Kerwan, and Yalode craters, as well as the dwarf planet’s lone mountain, Ahuna Mons. All of them show discrepancies between scientific models of Ceres’ gravity and what Dawn, the space probe that is currently observing the planet, has actually found there. The pre-existing scientific models couldn’t take into account the subsurface structures that Dawn is now showing.

“Ceres has an abundance of gravity anomalies associated with outstanding geologic features,” says Anton Ermakov, lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at JPL.

The other study, published through the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, looked at how the topography of Ceres has evolved. Looking at a planet’s topography and tell NASA a lot about the composition of what lies beneath. A strong crust suggests nothing but rock. A weak crust suggests that it has been weakened by something, like water or salt. Over billions of years, those elements will eventually deform a planet’s surface, giving it various valleys and peaks.

NASA researchers now believe that Ceres once had pronounced surface features, including mountains besides Ahuna Mons that were flattened out over time. It would take a strong surface to flatten out an entire mountain, meaning that strong layer now lies on top of a weaker, deformed layer which once contained water.

NASA plans to let Dawn orbit Ceres for another year until it runs out of fuel. Until then, it has already reshaping our knowledge of one of the solar system’s more obscure bodies.

David Grossman
Popular Mechanics

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