Artist's concept image of Dawn approaching Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists have discovered signs of water on Ceres, an icy dwarf planet located in the asteroid belt.
Measuring 950km in diameter and located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is the smallest and closest dwarf planet ever discovered. Now scientists observing the icy world through the Herschel Space Observatory have identified what look like plumes of water spewing from its surface.
The well-timed discovery coincides with the upcoming exploration of Ceres by NASA's Dawn spacecraft which is due to arrive in orbit around it next year. The enigmatic world has proven a tantalizing target for scientists who are hoping that Dawn's visit will discover more about how it came to be there and where the water plumes could be coming from.
One theory suggests that there could be a layer of ice just beneath the surface that is heated by the sun, causing the water to erupt in the form of ice volcanoes.
"It makes Ceres a more exciting target," said ESA's Michael Kuppers.
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