Ceres is definitely more than meets the eye. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Two new studies have revealed that the dwarf planet Ceres is home to significant quantities of water ice.
The largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres has been the subject of much intrigue recently thanks to its mysterious bright spots and anomalous surface features.
Now scientists believe that they have identified water ice trapped within permanently shadowed craters on its surface - regions that can reach temperatures below -260 degrees Fahrenheit.
"These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres' history," said Dawn project scientist Carol Raymond. "This separation formed an ice-rich crustal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system."
The discovery is particularly interesting because Ceres is much closer to the Sun than Europa, Enceladus and other icy worlds where subterranean liquid water oceans are thought to exist.
Liquid water would have also been needed on Ceres to produce the minerals we see on its surface.
"This combination of water and rock, are conclusive for a habitable environment, but we can only look for the chemical fingerprints on the surface, and we have evidence to say that the presence of the subsurface ocean was very likely," said Raymond.
"Ceres is a really interesting object, equivalent to Europa or Enceladus in terms of its habitability potential. By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system."
Source: Independent | Comments (5)