The dwarf planet Ceres – long thought to be a barren space rock – is an oceanic world with seawater reservoirs below its surface, the result of a major exploration mission revealed Friday Two.
Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and has its own gravity, allowing the Nasa Dawn spacecraft to capture high-resolution images of its surface.
Now a team of scientists from the United States and Europe has analyzed the transitions from the orbital ship, captured about 35km (22 miles) from the meteorite.
They focused on Occator crater 20 million years old and determined that there was a “vast reservoir” of salt water below its surface.
Several studies published on Monday in the journals Nature Astronomy, Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications also shed more light on the dwarf planet, discovered by Italian generalist Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801.
Using infrared images, a team of researchers discovered the presence of the compound hydrohalite – a substance common in sea ice but so far has never been observed off Earth.
Maria Cristina De Sanctis, from Rome’s National Institute for Astrophysics, said hydrohalite was a clear sign that Ceres once had seawater.
“Now we can say that Ceres is a sort of ocean world, as well as some of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter,” she told AFP.
The salt mines look like they have accumulated over the past 2 million years – blink in space time, the team said.
This suggests that salt water could still go up from within the planet, which De Sanctis said could have profound implications in future studies.
“The material found on the Ceres is extremely important in astrophysiology,” she said.
“We know that these minerals are all necessary for the appearance of life.”
Writing in an accompanying commentary, Julie Castillo-Rogez, from the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says the discovery of hydrohalite is a “suction gun” for ongoing water activity. .
“That material was unstable on the surface of the Ceres, and therefore had to be replaced very recently,” she said.
In a separate paper, researchers in the US analyzed images of Occator crater and discovered that its mounds and hills may have formed when water erupted due to the impact of a closed meteor. ice on the surface.
The authors say their findings suggest such water-freezing processes “go beyond Earth and Mars, and have been active on the Ceres in the geologically recent past”.