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Water Discovered on the Dwarf Planet Ceres

water found on ceres

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory has recently discovered that the dwarf planet Ceres has direct evidence of water.  Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, was detected spouting out plumes of water vapor from two different regions.  It’s suggested that this water is possibly coming from volcano-like ice geysers.

It’s been suggested that Ceres has had evidence of water for over 30 years now, however, it was never able to be confirmed.  This theory started back in 1991 when studies showed hints of hydroxide, a product of water’s dissociation.  But here in 2014, using the Herschel Observatory’s spectrometer, researchers were able to see clouds of vapor that absorbed the heat of the surrounding dwarf planet, thus, confirming the ongoing belief.

Michael Küppers of the European Space Agency said that one possible explanation for this phenomenon is icy volcanism: “It is like volcanism in that hot material from the interior is ‘spat out’ to the surface, much like a geyser. But these icy volcanoes eject water vapor instead of molten rock.”

Another possible explanation for what has been observed can be explained by what we know about comets.  Ice on the surface of comets sublimate, meaning the ice goes directly from solid to gas, dragging dust from the surface with it.

Küppers said more studies are necessary but “I personally consider cometary-style sublimation the most likely source, because I find it difficult to maintain the internal heat over the age of the solar system to maintain volcanoes.”

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is set to orbit Ceres in 2015,  may be able to answer some of the questions recently brought up by the observations of Ceres.

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