WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is a “ocean world” with a large saltwater reservoir below its icy surface, scientists Studies said in these findings attracts interest in this dwarf planet as a possible outpost for life.
Occator crater and Ahuna Mons appear together in this scene of the dwarf planet Ceres captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on February 11, 2017. NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / Handout via REUTERS
Research published on Monday based on data obtained by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which flew as close as 22 miles (35 km) from the surface in 2018, provides a new understanding of Ceres, In which there is evidence that it is still geologically active with cryovolcanism – a material icy volcano.
The findings confirm the presence of a saltwater reservoir – salt-rich water – the remains of a vast ocean that is slowly freezing.
“This elevates Ceres to the status of ‘ocean world’, noting that this type does not require the oceans to be global,” said Carol Raymond, a planetary scientist and Dawn’s lead investigator. “In the case of Ceres we know the liquid reservoir has a regional scale but we cannot be sure that it is global. However, the most important thing is to have liquid on a large scale.
Ceres is about 950 km (950 km) in diameter. Scientists focus on Occator Crater 57 miles wide (92 km wide), formed by an impact about 22 million years ago in the northern hemisphere of Ceres. It has two bright areas – the salt crust left by the liquid that penetrates the surface and evaporates.
The liquid, they conclude, originated from a saltwater reservoir hundreds of miles (km) wide lurking about 25 miles (40 km) below the surface, with the effect of creating fractures allowing saltwater to escape. exit.
The research has been published in the journals Nature Astronomy, Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications.
Other celestial bodies in the extraterrestrial solar system where subsurface oceans are known or likely to exist include Jupiter’s Moon Europa, Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, Neptune’s Moon Triton and the dwarf planet Pluto.
Water is considered the primary ingredient for life. Scientists want to evaluate whether Ceres could ever be habitable by microbial life.
Planetary scientist Julie Castillo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said: “There was great interest at this stage in quantifying the habitable potential of deep saltwater reservoirs, especially when considering it’s cold and quite salt-rich. ”
Will Dunham’s report; Edited by Sandra Maler