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Hidden Ice on Dwarf Planet Ceres Discovered

Dec 16, 2016 04:40 AM EST
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NASA's Dawn spacecraft discovered signs of water ice on the surface of dark and shadowy dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres is the largest object found in the asteroid belt.
(Photo : NASA/Getty Images)

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has made astonishing discoveries as it studies the dwarf planet Ceres. A Recent study shows that Ceres contain hidden water ice that may change how scientists see the biggest object found in the asteroid belt.

The discovery came as a surprise since mere observations using photographs did not manifest signs that Ceres could be icy. Previous NASA data taken by Dawn spacecraft captured images of dark craters on the dwarf planet covered in reflective salt materials and but not ice. However, new findings detect signs of ice on the surface of the dwarf planet.

The location of Ceres makes it interesting since some of its craters are facing away from the Sun thus making some areas perpetually dark. But that's not the only secret Ceres keeps because the entire dwarf planet may be covered in water ice, according to a report. The permanent shadows may be hiding the sheets of water ice from plain view.

The full details of the new findings will be discussed during the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting. "These studies support the idea that ice separated from rock early in Ceres' history, forming an ice-rich crystal layer, and that ice has remained near the surface over the history of the solar system," Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission said in a press release. "By finding bodies that were water-rich in the distant past, we can discover clues as to where life may have existed in the early solar system," Raymond added.

This increased the scientists' interest with the dwarf planet since any sign of water ice increases the chance for life with water being one of the key ingredients for life. Based on the study published in the journal Science, uppermost Ceres contains hydrogen while mid to high latitudes consist of wide water ice. This means the entire dwarf planet could be covered with water icy.

However, despite the presence of water ice, researchers do not think that life may thrive on the dwarf planet. "It's pretty cold in these permanent shadows - about 60 Kelvin [minus 351 degrees Fahrenheit, minus 213 degrees Celsius]," study lead author Thomas Platz, a geologist at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research said in an interview with "I presently don't see how life can form in such places," Platz added.

Despite the seemingly unconducive conditions to support life, the discovery of thick ice sheets on the dark and shadowy regions of Ceres is astonishing findings that may help scientist further understand objects found in the asteroid belt.


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