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Our solar system and its cosmic inhabitants continue to surprise on a daily basis.
Scientists have recently revealed that certain parts of Dwarf Planet Ceres harbored near-surface water deposits for millions of years in the recent past.
This is according to a re-examination of the observations of the Occator Crater made by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which studied the dwarf planet from orbit from March 2015 to October 2018, when the probe ran out of fuel.
The Dawn spacecraft was the first probe ever to orbit around a dwarf planet. The NASA spacecraft was also the first to circle two celestial bodies beyond the Earth-moon system; Vesta and Ceres.
Both Vesta and Ceres are dwarf planets and the two largest objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Image: Occator Crater on Ceres, with its central bright area called Cerealia Facula. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI
The 92-kilometer wide Occator crater is home to the spectacular bright spots, which members of Dawn’s team determined are salts that were left behind on the surface of the Dwarf planet when briny water boiled away into space.
As explained by space.com, “This water likely began as subsurface ice, which was melted by the intense heat of the impact that created Occator about 20 million years ago.”
As it was liquified, some of the material made its way to the surface thanks to fissures, and was eventually lost.
According to scientists, this sublimation most likely occurred some 4 million years ago, and scientists know this as it is the apparent age of the youngest deposits in the Occator floor.
This means that there is a gap of 16 million years which is puzzling, researchers said.
“It’s difficult to maintain liquid so close to the surface,” explained Castillo-Rogez.
“But our new model includes materials inside the crust that tend to act as insulators consistent with the results from the Dawn observations.”
Previous research has estimated that the “cryomagma” could remain liquid in the nearby subsoil of Occator for only approximately 400,000 years.
But the new study provides at least a partial response.
The modeling work of Castillo-Rogez and the study’s lead author Marc Hesse, associate professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas, suggests that Occator’s nearby subsoil contains insulating materials, which may have maintained the “cryomagma” liquid for as long as 10 million years–a value that doesn’t close the time gap completely, but that suggests that the additional data helps make a more realistic cooling timeline.
We wrote about Ceres and the mysterious bright pots countless times in the past.
Ceres remains as one of the most studied objects in our solar system filled with unexplainable features such as the enigmatic bright spots and the Pyramidal shaped structure located in the middle where mountainous regions should not exist on the dwarf planet.