Ceres, the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, has huge reserves of sea water under its surface, according to multiple new peer-reviewed studies published in the journal Nature. Yes, an ocean world. In other words, Ceres has all the ingredients necessary for life.
Using high-definition photographs from NASA’s Dawn mission, a team of researchers discovered evidence of an “extensive reservoir” of brine under the surface of Ceres’s 20-million-year-old Occator crater.
Ceres is the inner solar system’s lone dwarf planet. It is just 590 miles wide and orbits the Sun every 1,682 Earth days (4.6 years). It has a very thin atmosphere composed entirely of water vapor produced by ice volcanoes.
The newly found reservoir is about the size of Utah’s Great Salt Lake and is believed to be filled with very saline water, which prevented it from freezing.NASA’s Dawn satellite, a now-retired space probe launched in 2007, captured the photographs during the second pass in 2018.
The researchers investigated infrared photos and discovered hydrohalite, a substance that is often found in sea ice on Earth but has never been recorded on any other planet.
Scientists believe this reservoir originated in the Occator crater around 20 million years ago as a result of an encounter with another space rock. According to the experts, the crater’s surface froze over after the impact, producing a vast reservoir of meltwater underneath.
“The material found on Ceres is extremely important in terms of astrobiology,” Maria Cristina De Sanctis, a researcher at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Rome, Italy, co-author of one of the new papers and Dawn team member, told AFP.
“We know that these minerals are all essential for the emergence of life,” she added.
“It’s really kind of a smoking gun, because you would have expected it had gone away if it had been sitting there even close to the surface for millions of years,” Dawn Principal Investigator Carol Raymond of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab told Astronomy.
“Past research revealed that Ceres had a global ocean, an ocean that would have no reason to exist [still] and should have been frozen by now,” De Sanctis told Astrology. ”These latest discoveries have shown that part of this ocean could have survived and be present below the surface.”