Just because Ceres is a dwarf planet doesn’t mean that it has nothing of interest on its surface. As scientists have studied Ceres we have found that it may have ice deposits in its permanently shadowed regions. We have also learned that it has salt, mountains, and shiny craters on its surface. NASA has now offered up an image that shows a massive ice volcano sitting on the surface of the dwarf planet.
Ceres has its own NASA spacecraft in orbit called Dawn and it sent back the image of the giant ice volcano, which is about half the height of Mount Everest here on Earth. That makes the volcano about 13,000-feet and it has been dubbed Ahuna Mons. Rather than spewing molten rock lava as volcanoes do here on Earth, Ahuna Mons is a cryovolcano.
Surface temps on Ahuna Mons are -40F and in those frigid temperatures, water freezes hard as rock and forms tough mountains that are able to reach massive heights. Scientists studying the ice volcano think that it may be a recent addition to the surface of the planet. So far, no evidence of mountain formation by tectonic activity has been discovered so the thought is that the mountain erupted from the surface of the planet instead. The ice volcano is thought to be less than a billion years old, a baby by cosmic standards, and to have erupted for the last time several hundred million years ago.
“There is nothing quite like Ahuna Mons in the solar system,” Lucy McFadden of NASA Goddard, a co-author on the paper, said in a statement. “It’s the first cryovolcano we’ve seen that was produced by a brine and clay mix. … Ceres, which orbits between Mars and the gas giant Jupiter, is interesting because it appears to be a transition object — it’s not completely rocky, but it’s not an ice world either.”