The search for water in our solar system is one that hasn’t turned up too many results, but scientists may have a lead on water in a rather unlikely place. According to new research, the dwarf planet Ceres has spots on its surface that are permanently dark, and could therefore remain cold enough to trap water ice and keep it at stable temperatures.
The big news here is the discovery that these permanently dark spots, which are often located at the bottom of craters, remain at cold temperatures consistently. While these spots do receive a little indirect radiation, they never receive direct sunlight, allowing them to potentially house water ice deposits. It just so happens that Ceres, despite being a dwarf planet, has enough mass to trap water molecules, and these factors all come together to form the potential for water on the surface of Ceres.
A team of scientists lead by Norbert Schorghofer from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy discovered these cold traps by looking at data from NASA’s Dawn mission. They studied Ceres’ northern hemisphere and found dozens of craters with permanently dark areas that would act as suitable cold traps, as their temperatures remain below -243 degrees Fahrenheit. Schorghofer and his team predict that these permanently dark areas could build up detectable ice deposits over the course of around 100,000 years, and when you consider that these regions have perhaps been cold enough to trap water molecules for about one billion years now, there’s a possibility for water ice on Ceres right now.
It’s a fascinating discovery, and one that shows that Ceres may be similar to other celestial bodies in our Solar System, including the Moon and Mercury. This is just the latest news to come from NASA’s Dawn mission, which was launched way back in 2007 to study Vesta and now Ceres, both of which reside in the Solar System’s asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
SOURCE: University of Hawaii at Mānoa