Dwarf planet Ceres is 'ocean world' with salty water deep underground

By Will Dunham WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is an 'ocean world' with a big reservoir of salty water under its frigid surface, scientists said in findings that raise interest in this dwarf planet as a possible outpost for life. 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, including evidence indicating it remains geologically active with cryovolcanism - volcanoes oozing icy material.

Reuters August 11, 2020 02:10:33 IST
Dwarf planet Ceres is 'ocean world' with salty water deep underground

Dwarf planet Ceres is ocean world with salty water deep underground

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is an "ocean world" with a big reservoir of salty water under its frigid surface, scientists said in findings that raise interest in this dwarf planet as a possible outpost for life.

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, including evidence indicating it remains geologically active with cryovolcanism - volcanoes oozing icy material.

The findings confirm the presence of a subsurface reservoir of brine - salt-enriched water - remnants of a vast subsurface ocean that has been gradually freezing.

"This elevates Ceres to 'ocean world' status, noting that this category does not require the ocean to be global," said planetary scientist and Dawn principal investigator Carol Raymond. "In the case of Ceres, we know the liquid reservoir is regional scale but we cannot tell for sure that it is global. However, what matters most is that there is liquid on a large scale."

Ceres has a diameter of about 590 miles (950 km). The scientists focused on the 57-mile-wide (92-km-wide) Occator Crater, formed by an impact about 22 million years ago in Ceres' northern hemisphere. It has two bright areas - salt crusts left by liquid that percolated up to the surface and evaporated.

The liquid, they concluded, originated in a brine reservoir hundreds of miles (km) wide lurking about 25 miles (40 km) below the surface, with the impact creating fractures allowing the salty water to escape.

The research was published in the journals Nature Astronomy, Nature Geoscience and Nature Communications.

Other solar system bodies beyond Earth where subsurface oceans are known or appear to exist include Jupiter's moon Europa, Saturn's moon Enceladus, Neptune's moon Triton and the dwarf planet Pluto. 

Water is considered a key ingredient for life. Scientists want to assess whether Ceres was ever habitable by microbial life.

"There is major interest at this stage," said planetary scientist Julie Castillo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "in quantifying the habitability potential of the deep brine reservoir, especially considering it is cold and getting quite rich in salts."

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.