WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is an “ocean world” with a large reservoir of salt water beneath its frozen surface, scientists say in findings that raise interest dwarf plans as a potential post for life.
Octator Crater and Ahuna Mons appear together in this image of the dwarf planet Ceres taken from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on February 11, 2017. NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / Manual via REUTERS
The research, published Monday based on data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which flew nearly 22 miles (35 km) from the surface in 2018, provides a new understanding of Ceres, including evidence that he remains geologically active with cryovolcanism – volcanoes that release icy material.
The findings confirm the presence of a brackish underwater reservoir – salt-enriched water – the remnants of a vast underwater ocean that has been gradually frozen.
“This elevates Ceres to the status of the ‘ocean world’, noting that this category does not require the ocean to be global,” said planetary scientist and Dawn lead researcher Carol Raymond. “In the case of Ceres, we know that the liquid reservoir is regional in scale, but we can not say for sure that it is global. However, what matters most is that there is liquid on a large scale.”
Ceres has a diameter of about 590 miles (950 km). Scientists focused on the 57-kilometer-wide Oktator Crater (92-km wide), formed by an impact about 22 million years ago in the northern hemisphere of Ceres. There are two bright areas – the crust of salt left over from the liquid that penetrates to the surface and evaporates.
The liquid, they concluded, originated in a brine reservoir hundreds of miles (km) wide that swept about 25 miles (40 km) below the surface, with the impact creating fractures that allowed salt water to escape.
The research was published in the journals Nature Astronomy, Geoscience and Nature Communications.
Other organs of the solar system beyond Earth, where the oceans below the surface are known, known or appear to exist, include Jupiter Europa Moon, Saturn Moon Enceladus, Neptune Moon Triton, and the dwarf planet Pluto.
Water is considered a key ingredient for life. Scientists want to assess whether Ceres was ever habitable by microbial life.
“There is great interest at this stage,” said planetary scientist Julie Castillo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “in determining the habitat potential of the deep brine reservoir, especially given that it is cold and enriching. quite salty. ”
Reporting by Will Dunham; Edited by Sandra Maler