Ceres: the dwarf planet rich in water and ice
The dwarf planet Ceres, situated in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is extremely dynamic from a geological point of view: it contains water and ice in the outer layers of its crust.
This is confirmed by two new studies – published by the journal Science Advances – carried out by Italian researchers at the National Institute for Astrophysics-INAF.
The two studies are based on observations obtained by the VIR spectrometer on NASA’s Dawn space mission, provided by the Italian Space Agency, under the scientific direction of INAF.
In the first study, the electronic eye of VIR found unmistakable traces of ice on the northern wall of Juling Crater, 20 kilometres in diameter, in the southern hemisphere of Ceres. Subsequent observations made over a period of six months revealed a progressive increase in the amount of ice on the crater wall.
According to the researchers, the water vapour condensing on the cold crater wall would be the most reasonable explanation for this phenomenon. “The ice could be under a thin layer of dust on the crater floor and could sublimate due to radiation or high-energy particles from the Sun”, said Andrea Raponi, a researcher at INAF in Rome and lead author of the paper.
In the second study – coordinated by Giacomo Carrozzo, another researcher at INAF in Rome – the VIR instrument was used to create a series of maps of the distribution of carbonates, salts that forms in the presence of liquid water.
The maps showed that carbonates, mainly magnesium carbonates, are uniformly distributed on the surface of the dwarf planet, with the exception of some areas where the researchers found a prevalence of natrite, another type of sodium carbonate.
The two studies therefore reinforce the idea that Ceres is a still evolving planetary body as a consequence of the still active processes involving liquid water in its crust.
These discoveries follow the important discovery of what could be the “building blocks of life” on the dwarf planet Ceres, made by Italian researchers led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis of INAF.