Scientists continue to draw new conclusions from Dawn spacecraft data.
As reported earlier on our site, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) just released a fascinating 3D map of the surface of Ceres, the largest object that lies between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt.
Those images led to the discovery of craters on the dwarf planet’s surface near the poles that contain shadowy areas that have trapped ice, some of which could be as old as a billion years. These areas, hidden in the edges of the craters, never receive any sunlight, and it is estimated the temperatures drop to as low a minus 240 degrees Fahrenheit. That means the ice hasn’t melted in a very long time.
What could be contained in the trapped ice has scientists excited about more research. Now, another discovery, noticed as bright spots on the surface as the Dawn spacecraft first approached Ceres, has them even more excited.
One of the first assumptions about the spots was they were salt deposits of some sort, but new research leads them to believe they are some of the highest concentrations of carbonate minerals ever found outside of the Earth, according to a statement from NASA.
The spots are located in an area inside an 80 million-year-old crater, known as the Occator Crater, which, compared to most cosmic ages, is really fairly young. Scientists believe the spots are dominated by sodium carbonate, similar to the type found on Earth around hydrothermal environments.
From that evidence, they concluded the core temperatures inside Ceres must be much warmer that previously thought, and that may prove that liquid water may have been flowing below the dwarf’s surface much more recently than imagined, perhaps as soon as a few million years ago.
“It’s amazing how much we have been able to learn about Ceres’ interior from Dawn’s observations of chemical and geophysical properties,” offered Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We expect more such discoveries as we mine this treasure trove of data.”
Scientists expected there were cold traps of ice on Ceres, due to it being about 257 million miles from the Sun, but the new data is confirming that hypothesis for the first time. The researchers expect many more revelations to come from the Dawn spacecraft’s mission.