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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Tiny Frigid World CERES is Geologically Alive

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Ceres is the only dwarf planet in the inner solar system and the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. When Giuseppe Piazzi discovered it in 1801, it was the first discovered member of the asteroid belt. Ceres became the first dwarf planet to have a spacecraft visit when Dawn arrived in 2015.

It was previously classed as an asteroid. In 2006, astronomers classified it as a dwarf planet because Ceres is so much more significant and different from its rocky neighbors. Even though it makes up 25% of the overall mass of the asteroid belt, Pluto is 14 times more massive.

New research data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft revealed that this dwarf planet is geologically alive with ice volcanos and surviving pockets of an ancient ocean. When the Dawn was running out of fuel during its final orbit, it collected some instrumental data about Ceres. These close flyby observations show that the Dwarf has briny liquid seeping out of its surface and mounds and hills that most probably formed when the ice melted and refroze after an asteroid impact nearly 20 million years ago.

Mysterious bright spots light up Ceres's surface.
New research from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research suggests that the bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres’s surface are a type of salt

Now humankind knows that that tiny world is geologically alive. These findings help resolve other mysteries that surrounded the Dwarf for a long. The article presents some fascinating information about it.

Ceres is named after Ceres, the Roman god of corn and harvests. The word cereal is derived from the same word.


Ceres’ atmosphere is fragile, and there is evidence that it includes water vapor. Ice volcanoes or sublimating ice near the surface could produce vapors (transforming from solid to gas).


Ceres formed around 4.5 billion years ago; with the rest of the solar system, gravity drew spinning gas and dust into creating a small dwarf planet. Ceres is classified as an “embryonic planet” meaning it began to form but did not fully develop. Jupiter’s powerful gravity kept it from becoming a complete planet. Ceres landed into its current location in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter around 4 billion years ago, among the remaining parts of planetary creation.

Dwarf planet Ceres' 'lonely mountain' mystery has been solved
Dwarf planet Ceres’ ‘lonely mountain’ mystery has been solved

Size & Distance 

Ceres is 1/13 the radius of Earth, with a radius of 296 miles (476 kilometers). It would be around the size of a poppy seed if Earth were the size of a nickel. It is located at a distance of 2.8 astronomical units from the sun (257 million miles, 413 million kilometers). The distance between the sun and Earth is measured in astronomical units (abbreviated as AU). It takes 22 minutes for sunlight to get from the sun to Ceres at this distance.


Ceres completes one orbit around the sun every 1,682 Earth days (4.6 Earth years). Ceres’ day is one of the shortest in our solar system because it rotates once every 9 hours. Its rotation axis is only 4 degrees off the plane of its orbit around the sun. This implies it rotates nearly completely upright and has no seasons like other planets with more tilted orbits.


Ceres is closer to the terrestrial planets than its asteroid companions (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), yet it is far less dense. Ceres is thought to have a solid core and a water-ice mantle, and it could have a water content of up to 25%. Ceres has more water than Earth, if this is right. Ceres’ crust is rough, dusty, and covered with massive salt deposits. The salts on Ceres aren’t like table salt (sodium chloride) but are made up of a variety of minerals such as magnesium sulfate.


Ceres has a plethora of small, new craters, none of which are greater than 175 miles (280 kilometers) in diameter. Given that multiple massive asteroids must have hit the dwarf planet during its 4.5 billion-year existence, this is astonishing. The lack of craters may be due to ice layers beneath the surface.

If ice or another lower-density material, such as salt, is present near the surface, the surface characteristics may smooth out with time. Some enormous craters may have been obliterated by prior hydrothermal activity, such as ice volcanoes. Some areas of Ceres’ craters are always in shadow. These “cold traps” could have water freeze in them for long periods if they aren’t exposed directly to the sunshine.

It has a 57 miles wide impact crater known as Occator covered with perplexing bright salt spots. Researchers suggested that as recently as 1.2 million years ago, cold underground brine drained out from this crater’s floor and formed salty deposits.

Existence of Life

Ceres is one of the few planets in our solar system where scientists hope to find evidence of life. The Dwarf possesses something that few other planets do: water. Water is necessary for life on Earth. Thus it’s plausible that life may exist there if few conditions are met. The living organisms out there will most likely be very minute germs akin to bacteria. While it may not have any living things today, there may be evidence that it had in the past.

Also Read: Super-Earths: The habitable Planets of Gliese 581 Planetary System

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