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NASA Dawn Spacecraft Confirm Presence of Frozen Water Inside Dwarf Planet Ceres

Dec 20, 2016 05:10 AM EST

According to new research, there's water everywhere on the dwarf planet Ceres. The latest observations show evidence that there is water which has become frozen ice on the surface as well as the shallow subsurface of the asteroid.

"The water content of Ceres' uppermost surface is from about 16 weight percent at the equator to almost 30 weight percent in the northern hemisphere, at the north pole," stated Thomas Prettyman, the principal investigator for GRaND, adding, "We think part of it is, and part of it is the form of minerals of hydration,"

Lying between Mars and Jupiter, Ceres is considered to be the largest object in the asteroid belt and has been suspected of containing a huge amount of water. Estimated amount are approximately 30 percent of Ceres' total mass. A global map of Ceres show the distribution of hydrogen, which is used to the detect the presence of water.

The data from the global map shows that Ceres' water had been separated from the rocks and instead formed an ice-rich crust on the planet. The fact that there is water still present on the planet "confirms predictions that water ice can lie for billions of years within a meter of the surface" states the authors of the paper.

Ceres' global map was created with the help of an instrument aboard NASA's Dawn probe. This instrument is called the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND), which detects two kinds of particles namely gamma rays, high-energy light, and neutrons, particles that make up atoms.

With the help of the instrument, characteristics of neutrons and gamma rays on Ceres can provide the chemical composition of its surface. Thus, scientists looking at the data from GRaND can learn about what elements are abundant on the dwarf planet including iron, hydrogen, and potassium.

"If you look at the elemental composition of Ceres, it bears some resemblance to the carbonaceous contrite meteorites. But there are differences that support the idea that ice and rock that came together and formed Ceres actually separated in the interior and were redistributed by processes like convection," added Prettyman.

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