Evidence suggests that the dwarf planet Ceres may be a geologically active space body. This conclusion was reached based on the numerous bright spots that cover the surface of this planetoid.
These have recently been observed in more detail by the Dawn spacecraft, giving scientists insight into how these reflective areas may have changed over time.
How Could Ceres Be Geologically Active?
“Geological processes created these bright areas and may still be changing the face of Ceres today,” said Carol Raymond, the Dawn mission’s deputy principal investigator.
She and her team presented their findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting, which was held this week in New Orleans.
So far, about 300 bright spots have been discovered across the space body. They are made of a salty material, which explains their reflectivity.
Most of the spots are found either in the center of craters or along their ridges. There is also the odd case of Ahuna Mons, a mountain with bright streaks down its slopes. The working theory is that this mountain is actually a cryovolcano. This means that it erupts with icy material instead of lava.
All this implies that the dwarf planet is geologically active, according to the researchers. To put it simply, they believe that a salty, icy liquid exists below the surface of Ceres. This could come to the surface through various processes. For example, when the liquid itself disappears, the salt is left behind, creating the reflective spots.
“Previous research has shown that the bright material is made of salts, and we think subsurface fluid activity transported it to the surface to form some of the bright spots,” said Nathan Stein, a Caltech researcher.
The impacts that created the craters seem to have kick-started these processes. However, that doesn’t mean that the planet itself isn’t active underground. Lynnae Quick, a Smithsonian researcher, compares it to Europa, whose underground processes reach the exterior through surface fissures.
Image Source: JPL/NASA