Ancient Ceres may have been home to many ice volcanoes

The dwarf planet Ceres is home to a massive ice volcano said to be about half the height of Mt. Everest, and it sits alone on the otherwise mostly barren landscape. While solitary in its existence today, it may once have had other icy compatriots, at least according to a new bit of research fresh from the American Geophysical Union. These so-called 'cryovolcanoes' are thought to have flattened over time, becoming just another icy spot on the planet's surface.

Ceres caught both researchers' and popular attention due to its then-mysterious shiny spots, something first suspected to be salt and later suspected — and confirmed — to be ice. While some of the ice resides within craters and other features on the dwarf planet's landscape, there is also notably a large ice volcano, which has previously been shown off in photos from NASA's spacecraft.

The volcano is called the Ahuna Mons, and others like it likely existed during Ceres' ancient past million or even billions of years ago. Over this very long course of time, though, researchers think the ice volcanoes flatted out — that is, deformed — through a process called viscous relaxation.

Though the cryovolcanoes are made from ice, the idea is that they still may have had an element of 'flow' over a very long period of time, sort of like how cold molasses will still (very slowly) run downhill. This would indicate Ahuna Mons isn't a relatively new feature on the dwarf planet, but instead the last remaining structure of its kind.

SOURCE: American Geophysical Union